To Plan or Not-to-Plan Your Novel: What Will Work Best for YOUR Writing Habits
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of debate on what is the more successful way to complete a novel: free form or planned structure. I have always been more on the free form side of things, just because I think it works and I’m horribly awful at sticking to plans. But with my latest novel, it is very planned and structured with an outline that I wrote in less than 24 hours and so far so good! Seeing both sides of this debate and trying them both, I would say that the way that is best for you to write depends very much on your writing habits.
For the writer who has trouble finishing a story:
When I say “trouble finishing a story,” I mean, you either get sick of it, realize there is something wrong with it, or just aren’t sure how you want it to end - whatever the reason, your story just never gets finished and you move onto the next one, which also never gets finished. You’re most likely a freeform writer. You write in spurts of passion and the passion dies at a certain point and you can’t get it back. You need to write a structured story. Write a chapter by chapter outline, all the way through to the end. Make it action-packed. You are moving from one shocking scene to the next. This way, if one scene isn’t perfect, you still are looking forward to the drama of the next one all the way too the end. When creating this outline, consider taking into account my tips on the 3 Act Structure, as a basis before moving into individual chapter outlines.
For the writer who keeps revising her outline and seems to do more planning than writing:
Typically, this problem follows aspiring sci-fi and fantasy writers like a shadow. It’s the world building problem! Your worlds are so elaborate and complicated that you lose track of everything else that already makes it tough to write a novel. My suggestion is probably something that all of you will hate, but it honestly helps - skip the world building. Base it on a real place, maybe some place in history like Ancient Rome, the legendary Troy, or Pompeii. Use features from these places or just play around with a map of a town near you. Make it crazy and fantastical as you go so it can be the world you wanted it to be, but focus on the story. If you’re less worried about believable geography, you’re more likely to actually sit down and start writing. Fix it to be the world you want once the first draft is complete.
If you’re not a sci-fi or fantasy writer and you’re having this issue, I think you could use some practice in free form. Pick your beginning, middle, and end and just write it. If it’s not perfect, don’t worry. Just keep going. Write and write and write. That’s the only way to get out of this problem. Just keep in mind that you’re writing one of many drafts. This is not what the publishers will see, this is for you. It might look like crap, but you’ll fix it later.
For the writer who has written 20 k words and realizes he’s missing a plot:
Aristotle did say, “Plot is character revealed by action,” and he’s right. You need a plot. It doesn’t have to be all action, action, action, but there needs to be something that the characters want, there must be some type of conflict to keep the reader going. Actions are so telling of who a person really is, despite what they have to say. For you, I would suggest, taking a look at outlining, or at the very least, check out my page on The 3 Act Structure. Decide what yourThink about Antigone by Sophocles. While there are very few actions in this play (Antigone bury’s her rebel brother against the wishes of her uncle, Creon, the king, he gets angry, has her buried alive, and in a domino effect, his entire family commits suicide.) Despite what either character has said, the viewer is left wondering in the end who was right - Antigone who disobeyed the king or Creon who only asked one rule be enforced.
Those are the main problems I see in first drafts… If there’s any bad writing habits I missed, let me know and I’ll add it to the list!