[ This will be included on my friend Marj’s Blog. Have a look and see what she’s writing about:http://mamcrae-author.blogspot.com.au/]
I’ve been thinking a lot about planning recently, as I’m going to be doing it as part of my on-line writing course. It’s one of those things that seems to divide writers along with ,“show don’t tell” and the use of semicolons.
The real argument seems to be that the non-planners say that the story is driven by their characters. They put them in a place and the story naturally unfolds. The other side seems to say that this is fine for a simple story, but that for a story to have real have depth its got to been seen as a whole picture first.
I think I tend towards the last group. I’ve experimented with both forms of writing and while I find the first is good, and even more enjoyable for adventure stories, there have been too many times where I’ve been led to a dead end or even worse, an unsatisfactory ending in a story. There have also been loads of Indy books that I have read where the author is obviously doing this and you can spend several meaningless chapters waiting for something story wise to really happen. Although that might just be poor editing as well.
On the other side I think there is a danger of over planning. I think when you hold characters too tightly and try to force them in a certain direction they can become wooden. If you are too focused on the final destination and not going with what feels natural for the characters, the reader can tell. There is nothing worse in a story the when the nice kid who’s never done anything bad in his life suddenly decides for no reason to steal something or break in somewhere. It’s cringe worthy and I want, and sometimes do, throw the book across the room shouting “why!” This is really bad for me as I now use a Kindle.
So I think the argument is not really a matter of right a wrong, but much more a matter of degrees. When I’ve spoke to people who say they “don’t plan” their stories. It seems what they mean is that they don’t formally plan their stories. Likewise I’ve never met a writer who makes a time-line for each paragraph of their book. That’s why I go for the middle ground.
When I plan I usually make mind maps for the main characters as way of finding out who they are. Likewise there will be another mind map for story itself. Every couple of chapters I’ll also tend to do a mind map for the next section of the story in which I’ll include a few more details.
The thing is, these are just way points for me. They are vague mountains in the distance and don’t go in to very specific detail. It’s something that I could do in my head, but for me putting in on paper helps. I think that non-planning writers do the same thing. They just don’t need to put it on paper.
Also, as I write, the mind maps change. In fact most of my diagrams grow more during the story than at the start. For me it’s a way of keeping track of characters and ideas along with giving me time to examine smaller facets of the story in detail. That said, there have been plenty chapters where the map just got lost – or burned. Things came up as I was writing and so the story changed. In my first book Paradigms there was one chapter which I stared writing that ended up adding another five unplanned chapters to the book. It was a long and productive diversion that really added to the story, but the final destination still stayed the same.
So what I’m really saying here is that there is no right or wrong. There is just what is right or wrong for you. Use short stories. Play around. Experiment. Find what you are comfortable with and what works for you, then go for it.
Chris McKenna is the author of the books Bardo, Paradigms and the Truth about Faeries.
You can follow his blogs and find out more about his books and writing courses at: