Saturday, October 17, 2009

To plan or not to plan?

While I know that some incredibly creative writers can simply jump into new projects without an outline or even a basic plan, that really doesn't work for me. Oh, I've tried, but for me this just produces a sloppy mess. Much as I'd like to, I just can't wander into the wilderness of an unwritten story equipped only with a head full of inspired images and a few characters who simply march on ahead of me, leaving footprints behind for me to follow (Ray Braybury does say something like about plot being merely the footprints of his characters). No, I just can not operate like that.

For me, a short story requires a bare-bones plan at the very least. A longer work needs a more detailed outline.

Does a preference to plan things out indicate a lack of trust in the creative process? I do wonder about that sometimes.

Does planning kill creativity outright? No, I don't think so, since even the most detailed plan will likely veer to the right or swerve to the left or tumble down a ravine, and end up being a different story altogether. But when that happens, what should a writer do? Draw up a new plan!

So what's your style?

Do you plan, and if so, how much? Or, like Ray Bradbury, do you follow in your characters' footprints as they march through their own stories?


  1. Interesting post! I've done a series of posts on about outlining/mapping, and I have to say, I learned a lot about my own creative process and how I outline from the discussions that went on over there.

    In a nutshell, I very loosely plan before I start a piece. I do a lot of research and just let the story GO. Then, when the first draft is done, I start planning and mapping and charting like crazy to fill in holes and tighten everything up. I do that about five or six times until I've got a great draft!

    That all sounds so organized, bu it's not. Really, it's like a huge train wreck that works itself out somehow...

  2. If I don't have a structured plan, I end up of a bit of a waffle that needs to be cut. I also start to show everything as I don't know what the key aspects of the work are.
    Now I work from listing the 30 key events/changes in the story. I get 3000 words max to write about each of these.
    There's still rewriting and sorting out to be done, but I don't end up writing stuff that I'm just not going to use.

  3. I've tried both ways and outlines just don't work for me, at least not fomally. When I get a story idea, I chew on it for a while. While I'm nibbling on this tasty morsel, I think about how the story should end. Then I think about all of the things that would get in the way of reaching that ending. Now I'm ready to write.

    It's funny thinking about my process. I begin a WIP only knowing the main ideas of the beginning, middle, and ending.


Join the conversation, add insight, or disagree with us! We welcome your thoughts.