I am often asked what the most effective strategy is for writing a good story.
But the truth is, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to plan. However, there are a number of different ways to do this. Some people like to plan; others like me are willing to just jump right in and get things going, allowing it to “flow.” We will be examining these two polar opposites using what I call “writer personas.”
“The Planner” is someone who starts with an idea, followed by a short three-paragraph synopsis (often preceded by an outline that consists of bulleted points), and then a few revisions of the synopsis, followed by a lengthy treatment. Though there is nothing wrong with this type of style, it does negate a bit of the purpose of creative writing. I feel that creative writing cannot be planned or organized.
I do understand the idea of coming up with a treatment for your story, or a general idea of what you are writing, but in the words of Steven King: “Write 500 words at a time and never read what you wrote; just write.” The pros are that you will know exactly what the story is about, and you will be able to easily synthesize plot points, character backstories, settings, and chances are you will find yourself writing a great piece.
The cons are that sometimes it is just as bad to over-prepare as it is to under-prepare. My advice for this type of writing is to leave in a lot of “blanks.” By that I mean, plan to an extent, but also plan for improvisation. If you have a strong character backstory, is there a way to add to it as you progress? Is a good guy who was planned to be the hero perhaps someone who can end up the enemy in some way?
In other words, plan…but also plan for improvisation!
Here’s where I come in, as I am one of these. I begin with an idea and I let the story envelop me. It can be problematic because often you are left with no real structure. As illustrated in my upcoming release (a sequel to the infamous “Port Risk“), there was a lot of great content – the kind that makes you thrilled and sick to your stomach at the same time.
However, because I had no idea where I was headed with it, I ended up stopping the writing process for over three months, and it sat there on my hard drive collecting dust. In the end, I came up with a great twist ending, but you can tell by reading it that it just was not on-point. The other problem with this method of writing is that it often causes a severe lack of content. I freewrite with every book and every story; there is no “planning” involved – ever. This is probably why none of my books ever exceed 20,000 words: without planning, I am forced to write based on my mood.
However, that is where the advantage of freewriting comes in! Your mood will change every day; your mindset will also change. This allows your brain to come up with new ideas based on emotion, and that is quite possibly the most powerful facet of freewriting: you are relying on your daily rhythm, and the emotions you feel will pour out onto that page. Though you may be stuck with less structure and content, it’s worth its salt.
What’s The Right One?
That’s for you to decide. I suggest trying both. See which you are comfortable with. If you are a seasoned writer, chances are you will know which utilizes your skills the best. Sometimes trusting your gut is the answer, but be prepared for a lot of “waiting around.” Other times, planning to a tee will give you plenty of content and a great setting/backstory for each character, but the emotion may be lacking. Either way, see which works for you and trust your instincts – always!