When people ask me how it is that one actually goes about writing a novel I like to tell them there is no “right way” but in general it makes sense to have a plan. It certainly isn’t a requirement, see my “right way” comment above, but in many cases the difference between starting a novel and finishing a novel is the existence of a plan.
The good news is that there is no “right way” to plan either. Your plan could be a handful of notes scribbled on a napkin, a spreadsheet with a detailed list of scenes or a Pinterest board full of pictures.
What happens with many of us is that the story idea is so exciting, so compelling that we can’t possibly slow down and work on a plan, the words need to come out, like now. But the truth is that you aren’t going to write tens of thousands of words in one sitting, regardless of how many feel like they are going to spill out right now. To write a 100,000 word novel at 1,000 words a day you’re going to be at this for 100 days or more.
The theme, character flaw or killer scene that are so crystal clear right now might be a little fuzzy on day 10 or day 45 or even day 2. So here are 5 good reasons you should come up with a plan for your story.
- Know where you’re headed – A good story takes the reader on a journey. Would you set out on a trip without knowing where you’re going? When I work with kids on writing stories one of the things I ask them is what the main character was like at the beginning of the story and how they were different at the end. I tell them to write that down, because all the stuff that happens in between is the journey and we want to see why they changed.
- Have a logical flow – If you’re actually sitting down to tell a story you probably have a bunch of ideas floating around your head. Sometimes when you’re writing, those ideas just start to spill out. If you don’t have a plan for your story a good idea might show up in a bad spot.
- Guide posts – I had a kid tell me the other day that they had a plan for their story but they were deep in the woods, pretty far off the path. It turned out to be a great metaphor, because they wound up realizing that they could see the path and knew they were heading in the right direction it just wasn’t the way they thought they were going to go. It’s okay to go off and explore in the woods and find an interesting rock. A plan will let you go off on a great adventure without loosing track of the destination.
- Reduce throw away work – You’re going to have throw away work, that’s just a harsh truth many of us don’t think about before we start telling our story. If you realize you’re off on a cool tangent, pause to take a peak at your plan. It will remind you to think about this story and the journey the character is taking. Either you can put the breaks on this tangent or make sure you understand how hit works into the story you set out to tell.
- Maintain sanity – At some point before you’re done with your story you’ll get stuck (not a guarantee, but I promise it will happen). You’ll ask yourself what the hell you’re doing and why you ever thought you could do this. Everything you’ve done to this point was crap and finishing the story is pointless because you’re going to have to start over from scratch anyway. Take a beat and read your plan. You’re not a moron, you know what you’re doing and you even made a plan to get it done. In fact you’re a genius, get back to writing, stick with your plan!