To Plan or Not to Plan, And Other Meanderings


I haven’t blogged for a while because I haven’t had very much of use to say. I’m like one of those Magic 8 balls that comes up with gems like “Maybe later”, “Buggered if I know”, “I’ve no clue” and “um…” when shaken.


So I have no useful answers to any sensible questions you might have, but I am in that sweet zone of novel writing that comes just before you start the actual writing, where the place and the characters and what actually happens are all in a glorious flux. Sometimes I think I like this stage the best because nothing is quite nailed down yet and I’m still chasing research across Wikipedia (lately I have been looking at prehistoric sea creatures, the tallest buildings in London, and how gills work), while the characters are slowly forming in the green room, arguing over the biscuit tin and making endless cups of tea (there’s a girl called Esther who isn’t sure what she is, and a grumpy boy who isn’t happy with my decisions about his hair).


Planning though, planning’s the bitch. How much is too much? To plan everything within an inch of it’s life, to know the outcome of every decision and squabble, or to “pants” it and make it up as you go along? These are questions I’ve jousted with before, of course, over and over, and these days I use a mixture of both disciplines – know just enough about where you’re going to get started, and then see where the journey takes you. This is the way that seems to make sense to me, but I’d love to hear from anyone who is a planning purist or a dedicated by-the-seat-of-your-pants-er; how do you approach your next book?


8 thoughts on “To Plan or Not to Plan, And Other Meanderings

  1. My current WIP is targeted at 100k and I’ve written 15k. This is the point where I sit down and actually start planning. What generally happens is I think about the story first, then the plot. When I’ve got it all fairly square in my head, I’ll make notes – no more than a page, really just sort of pulling it into shape, like you do with a hand-wash-only wool jumper that you have to dry flat.Then I start writing. I write until all the characters are on stage, which is generally roughly the 15k point, which is where I’m at now. I always know how the book’s going to end. I’m fairly sure I know what’s going on in the middle, but not exactly how it all pans out. So at the moment my novel looks like a huge ball of string with the beginning and ends teased out – unravelling the big messy knot in the middle is what comes next.So, to answer your question, I sort of have an idea, wing it up to a point, then sort of plan for a bit, throw it all in the air, and plough on to see if I can get everybody through the maze with their integrity intact.

  2. I’m on the first rewrite of a 130’000 word-ish thing. I usually know the beginning and end of something and have a rough idea of what happens in the middle before I start. Then I write and see what happens. Then find out I’ve not written what I thought and it needs a lot of work. Do a lot of work. Wince. Decide I don’t like it, prevaricate. Do more work. Weep. Start new project. Repeat for new project.I probably need a better system.

  3. Ah, I love the image of the half-written book being like a ball of string with the beginning and end teased out – and the writing of the middle is trying to untangle everything (I suspect that when finished my books tend to look like a ball of string that has been smooshed flat & rolled down a hill…)I’ve never heard of anyone writing a sizeable chunk and then pausing to write a rough plan – although now that I think about it there are always pitstops in books where several things click into place at once and you suddenly know where it’s all going.

  4. I think I sit somewhere towards the pants end of the scale in that I do plan out what I’m going to write, but then I end up changing it all as I go anyway. While writing the previous novel-in-progress, I spent the downtime scribbling down ideas and flowcharts and ten-scene-diagrams for the next one so that when the time came to write “The End”, I had an idea to start on straight away.But then, when it came to getting it down, I wrote a couple of thousand words, decided it sucked, slept on it and came up with a brand new beginning with an entirely different character.One thing I do while writing is that I make a conscious effort to bring the revelation forward. It took me ages to realise that the character-conflict-resolution thing works on a small scale as well as a big: the novel-killing mistake of my efforts to date has been that I tried to keep everything back for the climax, turning them into 80,000 word short stories. Now I’m constantly looking at my notes, looking at what I’m writing, looking at my research and thinking, “what’s the interesting thing you’re trying to say here? Also, I would like some tea and a biscuit. Just saying.”I’m easily distracted.

  5. I’m a dedicated pantser, I’ve tried planning and usually abandon the plan fairly quickly as other paths for the story to take come to mind. I do plan my characters more than the story, try to get in my head how they look, how they talk, how they relate to other characters. On past WIP I have a title, a beginning and an end, the rest I fill in as I go. I tend to find planning a bit like doing the colouring in a kiddies book, try as I might to stay inside the lines it doesn’t always work.

  6. I’ve had a fair stab at both ways – for Dead Zoo Shuffle, my crime/SF novel, I decided that I would have to plan everything, right down to each scene, because crime books are complimacated and the mystery had to make sense – I half expected this approach to suck all the joy out of writing it, but funnily enough I had a blast writing that book. Unfortunately, when I went and read it back I found it was missing some oomph – as pnorris14 says, it was like a colouring book picture. Fun to do, but who wants to look at it afterwards?For A Boy of Blood and Clay I didn’t plan anything at all – not even the characters – and the whole thing went tits up at the 63,000 word stage. Never again!

  7. I usually know the end and a few bits in the middle, but beyond that I’m a serial pantser. If I plan too much I get bored, and the books never do what I think they’re going to do anyway….

  8. I’m a reformed pantser. Ish. I used to write with an idea of where I was starting and a loose view as to where I wanted to finish. Trouble is – with my novels anyway – my day job makes it hard to hold the story in my head continuously and so I wound up having to do significant numbers of rewrites to get the books to hold together. This just wasn’t an option with my current WIP as it has a mystery at the centre that needs to click together like a puzzle box and so I’ve planned each scene. It’s much more like planning a screenplay. It enabled me to live with structure for a bit, make changes at a relatively low time cost, before investing the time writing. If it reduces the number of structural rewrites, I’ll be sticking to it.

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