There Is Far Too Much Emphasis Placed On Planning


I know I’ve spoken about planning in the past. But like a lot of seriously overused writing crutches, it bears talking about yet again.

So many new and not so new writers insist on planning every single detail in their current work in progress almost to the point of being totally paranoid about it. It’s as if they need an Idiot’s How To Guide to be able to write. It has to be said that following this inflexible method leaves nothing to be desired. Neither does it make you think before you write. Nor does it allow you to make use of your imagination, not to mention being adventurous and therefore spontaneous. Give me research and spontaneity over planning any day.

It’s fine if you are just another hack with no imagination whatsover, ghost writing for a living. But I ask you, where’s the fun in that? Where is the creativity? Where is that spontaneity I spoke of? Where is the unique thinking?

As far as planning goes, all you really need is the beginnings of an idea. From that comes the who, why, what, where and when.

Do what I do. Sit and think about it long and hard while doing something else entirely. This blog post is a classic example. I was thinking it through while writing a bit more of the first chapter of The Guardian earlier today. But before you planners out there who by now are bristling with indignation say anything, remember that there is a fundamental difference between what you do and thinking about what to say.

Once you have a vague notion, make a few notes about where the story will take place, how many characters, their names etc. There is no need to go into great detail. From my point of view, as far as planning is concerned, that’s it! There is no need to continue. Instead, start writing.

If you want to use a specific location, research everything you can find out about it before you begin to write. The same goes for the nationalities of your characters. Each nation, even ancient ones, has its own peculiarities which inevitably become typical character traits. Remember, research, don’t plan!

Take my tip. Forget about planning out everything. If you plan then you already know where and how the story will end. Inevitably you will write to that conclusion. It’s far too restrictive and therefore predictable. In fact it guarantees to kill off any ‘out of the box’ thinking which is a basic fundamental to all writing, necessary to keep your readers guessing. I far prefer to find out what happens next as it occurs in any given moment in any story I write, just like my readers will when they eventually read it for themselves.

How do I achieve this? First of all keep the number of characters to a workable minimum. Get to know them by clearly establishing who they are. How? By letting them talk to each other. Listen to them. Put yourself in their place for any given situation. Then all you have to do is ask yourself what they would do. It makes no difference whether or not they are good, bad or indifferent. Sly, honest or dishonest. Handsome or ugly. Old or young. Male or female. The point is that you as the writer must know each character inside out before you begin to engage them in anything more than conversation. Why? Because you need to know their strength’s and weaknesses before you put them into a situation that may prove detrimental to their health.

Of course if you intend killing them off at some stage of the proceedings, it doesn’t really matter. Which is a pity, as by now you have invested a lot of time, effort and thought in getting to know them. Most writers do kill off the odd character or two. That’s fine just so long as they are not the principal ones. In other words your heroes or heroines.

In my new WIP, so far I have just three characters. Like all of my recent books I prefer to listen to them before writing from the point of view of each one. One is a typical by the book ex British Army officer. The next is a no nonsense veteran bomber pilot, formerly in the Canadian Airforce. As for the third, it is The Guardian itself. The only thing I will say about the latter is that it’s been around for several millenia.

PS – I almost forgot. As of this morning – Saturday the third of January 2015, I’ve written 1,310 words (three pages) in the first chapter of The Guardian, slow by most writer’s standards. But not so, if like me, you want to produce a work of fiction that keeps the reader’s attention from page one until the end.

More later.


37 thoughts on “There Is Far Too Much Emphasis Placed On Planning

  1. Planning blocks. At least, for me it does. I have much more fun writing (and the characters have more fun too) if I let the characters lead me on their merry way. The adventures I find with them! If I had planned their story before I even met them, it would be a very different (and boring, I must add) book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jack, I can’t tell you how much this post resonated with me. Thank you! I have friends who make outlines, time lines, character descriptions etc before actually writing – and maybe that works for them. I did discover over years of teaching that different kids learn differently, but to me all this preparation work takes the fun out of writing, the spontaneity, the discovery as you let your mind wander, the research that pops up along the way. Looking forward to reading your new book!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been reading a lot about planning, wondering if my lack of planning was a determent. I write out a brief outline about what I want to happen my characters to go through, but I let the specifics come to me as I’m writing. I find that some of the most interesting aspects of my story was done on-the-fly.

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  4. I agree. And research — you read a whole lot of stuff about whatever it is you’re researching, sort of an immersion process. It gurgles down into your brain somewhere and comes up when needed in the context of whatever you’re writing. And I admit — I don’t like reading How To Write books; I’d rather read just about anything else. Lots of reading is the foundation of writing, for anyone.

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  5. Research and spontineity… that’s me! I’ve always felt that I must be doing this writing thing wrong because I didnt plan every detail, like other authors seem to do. Glad I’m not the only one! Thanks Jack!

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  6. And people give me a hard time when I say this! I do not plan in any way other than a two or three word note to myself to remember a detail. I agree with you completely Jack! One of the things I love about writing is when I put a seemingly unimportant detail at the beginning of the story and have no idea why I did it only to find it an integral part of the plot and/or resolution at the end!! I’m a firm believer in the subconscious and conscious mind’s creativity. I’m a pantser all the way!
    Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone out here Jack!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I couldn’t agree more, Jack. Characters intrude, confusion sometimes reigns, BUT I feel my work is more natural and realistic (where needed!) when I’m in full-flow. Spontaneity shows…I’m often an ‘out of the box’ thinker, but firmly believe in thorough research, a firm conviction and dive in…Best wishes.

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