To Plan or Not to Plan (Repost)

Posted on April 5, 2012 at 1:55 AM

Is planning an essential part of the writing process?

This is a question we discussed in my Fiction Writing class this week. I was humbled to discover that, while I tend to make do with only the vague story outlines I’ve got written nowhere except in my head, certain members of the class felt that having an in depth plan was essential to them constructing a good story. One of my classmates revealed that he had written a plan upwards of 40,000 words to cover the plot and backstory of his series of fantasy novels.

I, on the other hand, tend to “make up” my plotlines as I go along, preferring to actually write than to plan. The rough details come out as I write them and then I fill them out in my head, and flesh them out more when I edit my writing later. The events and backstory of my plot define themselves as I write them, and, as a writer, I find that this is the most natural way for me to write. Indeed, Legionwood and the entirety of the One Night trilogy had their stories constructed only out of vague ideas in my head (of course, I did need to do some planning as these works were games and not just stories, and mechanics and puzzles needed to be planned). Needless to say, my assessment on whether planning is essential is different to my classmate’s.

Thus began an interesting discussion about writing craft that I thought I’d share with the world at large.

So, with this in mind, the class discussed whether we thought writers needed to have in depth plans of what they aimed to achive with their writing in order to get the most out of it and construct a good piece, and overall, we discovered that the class was split into two camps:

  • Those who wrote detailed plans of the plotlines of their works, and who felt that it was easier to write and make progress with a plan to refer to. As a class, we agreed that having a plan is useful for keeping track of the backstory of a piece (names, places, history etc), particularly if the work heavily relied on these or if said backstory was the basis of more than one work.
  • Those who, like me, tended to use only vague (or non existent) plans containing only rough sketches of the plotline and backstory and who filled in these details or added more as they wrote. As a class, we agreed that this method offered more freedom to the writer than having a rigid plan and lent itself to more natural writing, but gave the writer an increased chance of creating plot holes or inconsistencies that would need to be addressed later.

From experience, I can say that planning is useful, particularly for working on a series; I never intended One Night to have a sequel, and having a plan with lots of pre-defined backstory would have made it easier to make sequels that tie into the original game. However, my ultimate consensus, and that which my class and our teacher eventually came to agree upon, was that writing craft is subjective, and planning (or not planning) is a part of writing craft. For some writers, it’s a natural part of the process, and for others, it’s a chore.

So do what feels best to you, non?

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  1. […] really follow a strict plan for my projects (or in most cases, even a very basic plan, unlike some), I’ve found that the vast majority of my works often turn out rather different from how I […]



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