Are you a “watch the weather forecast and pick your outfit accordingly” kind of writer, or a “put something on and hope you don’t sweat or freeze” kind of writer?
In life, I’m a weather watcher. In writing, I’m a forecast gambler.
A lot of authors will swear by their various methods of planning–storyboards, character charts, webs, lists, outlines, the list goes on. Planners are the ones paying attention to the forecast of their story–deciding on the mood, action, tension, and characters ahead of time. And, lots of authors swear by the process of writing to discover. They throw on whatever they want to wear at the time, maybe bringing along a plan B outfit just in case, but allow the climate of the story to shift on its own, and then adjusting the characters to be appropriately dressed after the fact.
With the former, authors benefit from economy of time. Planning, if you are the type who works well with such structure, means that very little writing time is wasted on things that don’t make it to the final copy. Characters are fleshed out before they even enter the story, plot has definite direction, and the motivation and drama of the story is decided, meaning you already know what characters want, why they want it, and what happens when they try to get it. These are great things to know in advance. I wish it was easy for me to write in this manner, to sit down and say, “Today, I’m going to make this happen.” Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to answer any questions about my characters or plot before getting to a moment in the story where a certain question must be answered.
The latter is my preferred method because I write first drafts off of train of thought. Authors don’t necessarily know where the story is going when it starts, which can be liberating. In addition, having no plan releases an author from the feeling that preconceived ideas about the story must be adhered to. It’s hard to let go of a plan you’ve spent a lot of effort on, even when it’s not working. If it’s not the first book in a series, there’s some direction left over from the books before it, but as a stand-alone plot, very few factors are decided. To dive right in rather than to plan means that characters truly drive the story, and they grow with the plot. Nothing is decided until it has to be, and nothing is permanent. I think this is a good way to prevent myself from writing what I would do rather than what the character would do. This method may produce more loose ends to revisit, but as long as you can keep track of following through on those connections, you can be assured that actions true to the characters are taking place.
Leave your thoughts on the planning process in the comments below!