Some writers plan every moment of a story, some have bits of paper strewn about the place and some have no plan at all. The basic questions in all cases are: Who? What? Where? Why? What people don’t always realise is that simply because you’ve written a plan doesn’t mean you have to stick to it.
For this reason I might discourage people from writing a point-by-point plan, but if that is what works for you by all means do, but this sometimes becomes too rigid for the writer. As you write your story you will discover more about it and the characters and things might change. Writing about fictional people can be the same as learning about real people, to begin with you may have a sense of who they are but as you delve deeper and discover more about them you might realise they aren’t the person you thought they were. For instance you may discover in chapter two that your main character doesn’t like coffee and therefore the scene you had planned in chapter twenty-five where they are drinking coffee won’t work and needs to be changed. A plan is not there to be followed exactly but rather something advisory.
The problem I always have with planning is, personally, my brain tends to shoot about all over the place. This doesn’t matter in a first draft because that is the place for inconsistencies, you could even change the plot halfway through if you wanted. I’ve done it myself, some of the Weekly Serial episodes have been known to change part way through or have completely different endings by the time they’re published.
Of course, it would be unfair not to point out the advantages of a plan, not least the fact that you essentially have a map to your destination. While you may have to take a diversion or two the main thrust of the story is there and you can think out plot tangles before you begin. I always find it frustrating when I get part way through a story then hit a snag that might’ve been avoided if I’d taken the time to plot the story out. As I mentioned though my brain pings about so while I can write a story in chronological order I don’t seem to be able to write a plan, sometimes I wish I could.
Similarly planning give you a chance to think out elements of your characters; their relationships, their likes/dislikes, and their overall personality. Once again, sometimes you can’t quite work out exactly how a character will behave until you put them in a situation and start writing. This isn’t a fault on the planner’s part, it’s simply that we’re trying to write fictional characters who seem real and real people do unexpected things. Sometimes your subconscious will work things out for you that you don’t realise until you get to that point in the story.
This is perhaps another reason why I’m not a huge fan of planning because I believe strongly in the idea that the subconscious mind will work everything out as you go. Except when it doesn’t and you hit a bout of writer’s block when a plan might be useful.
What I’m trying to say is that planning is not a universal thing, it differs from person to person, just as writing differs. We all have different creative processes and sometimes it takes experimentation to find what works best for us. I can’t say that I don’t recommend planning but I can’t say that I do either because to tell you how you should write rather than allowing you the space to find your style would be wrong. It’s simply important to know that if you do plan don’t feel you have to be constrained by it, if you tell yourself that you must stick to the plan then you may bring on a bout of writers block if you discover your story isn’t going the way you expect it to.
Plan by all means but leave yourself space to breathe.
For more writing advice see my archive page.