How Much Should You Plan For Your Writing?

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Writers have an expression. Writing by the seat of your pants. That means you write with no real planning. You write events as they come to you. Almost randomly.

I used to write by the seat of my pants. Then, my books were boring, flavorless, and boring again. Then I started planning.

Then they started getting good.

An argument might be, “Planning leaves no room for creativity during writing.” I agree with that, but only to a certain extent. So how do you allow room for both creativity and planning? How can you always have a good idea of what happens per chapter, yet be able to throw in the ideas you have along the way? This is my method.

Here is a numbered list describing what I do.

  1. Plan your entire book on paper or computer, highlighting main events, all in one long description. This is a summary that should last a page or two. However, this isn’t full of details. Don’t say, “Then the main character (MC) ran until his legs burned, then he started feeling dryness in his lungs as his chest heaved. He forced bile back down his throat, and then shouted to sub-main ‘How much longer?’ The sub-main character replied ‘We can stop now; we’re too tired to go on.'” Say, “The MC and sub-main ran as long as they could.” You are supposed to be vague, but just make sure you write everything clearly so you understand it next time you read it. The vagueness of the book summary allows room for creativity later. (Note: If there is a really important detail, by all means include it in the summary.)
  2. Reread what you planned, and read it again. More ideas will start flowing. Your creative juices will unfreeze and start to ooze around your brain until they’re running freely, dripping onto the paper and becoming one with what you write.
  3. What you do next is the chapter planning. what you do is simply take sections from your summary and rewrite them in different words, and with a little bit more detail. Include what your creative instinct told you! Write them under headings “Chapter Twenty-Five” or “Section 3.” Just make sure you can understand your organization later.
  4. Go back and edit it, looking or inconsistencies or anything unclear.
  5. You’re done! Whenever I plan like this, ideas flow down my mental river like water through a broken dam. Only every once in a while do I have to stop typing and actually think for new ideas. Don’t be afraid to go back and change what you wrote to make room for plot thickeners, subplots, or evil plots. That’s what editing is all about.

Great! Do you see what you just did? You planned your book! But the cool thing is that you’ve done it in a way for creativity to come in later during the writing process. Also, you’ve read through it several times already. Now you, the author, are very well versed in your own story. This seems redundant, but it’s very important. You need to know as much as you can about your book, and that’s always more than the reader.

After this, you can fill out character questionnaires (possibly coming soon), glossaries, or more, if you want to do a bit more varied types of planning

I roughly used this method in the planning of Bayonet. And now, in the writing process, I have lots more subplots and stuff that weren’t in original planning. And a lot of them are quite big, as in adding-ten-or-more-chapters-in big.

There you have it. A perfect planning process.

To God be the glory.

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