Sometimes, planning out a story before writing it is what pushes people to create amazing things.
But is it possible to overdo it, and plan too much?
There are advantages and disadvantages to doing a little bit of planning before you start writing. But you should never plan in so much detail that you lock yourself into commitments you aren’t sure you will be willing to keep.
Let your ideas unfold
The story you start writing won’t be the story you finish writing. That’s pretty much inevitable … unless you do a little too much planning. I started ghostwriting a series of novellas a few months ago for a client, and in order to do that, I had to first submit chapter-by-chapter outlines of how the story was going to go. At first, I liked it. Then I started writing, and really found that I didn’t like it so much. It felt way too limiting.
To me, coming up with new ideas as I go along s fun. I love watching ideas expand, which you can’t really do as effectively if you lock yourself into a strict outline. Some people, once they have that outline in front of them, can’t stray from that, which is just how some people’s brains operate. If that’s you, I would recommend outlining major plot points, but leaving the connecting elements a mystery.
Normally, I don’t like surprises. Except when I’m surprising myself. That doesn’t happen on purpose, and really the only time it happens is when I’m in the middle of writing a story and just come up with something I feel is really awesome or clever (come on, you know you’ve had those moments). I’ve noticed this happens much less often when I’m writing off of an outline.
Writing spontaneously is exciting. A lot of the time, you really don’t know what’s going to happen next. As I have been writing a series of novellas this year for The Novella Concept, because I write them so quickly, I don’t have time to plan anything out other than the major theme that corresponds with whichever charity I’ve chosen to donate the royalties to. So when all of a sudden a character does or says something even I didn’t expect, I am reminded that every once in awhile, not planning ahead really is okay.
Push your story out of its own comfort zone
Does planning out your story before you start writing it make you feel safe? Confident? Reassured? Excellent: this is a good reason you SHOULD plan ahead. The only problem is, we can’t get TOO comfortable. In order to grow as a writer, remember that sometimes means you’re going to have to stretch yourself a little. An outline has the potential to prevent you from stretching.
What I have learned in the past five months or so is that it’s when I write something that makes me go, “No, character, don’t do that,” I enjoy my writing time so much more. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, sometimes I start to second guess myself, but then I just shrug it off and let what will happen, happen. I’ve written some of my best fiction this year (compared to previous years) because of this. It isn’t always going to feel safe. That’s what makes it so worth it.
Don’t feel bad if you are someone who needs to plan in detail. There’s nothing wrong with doing it that way. Just remember to let yourself go off course every once in awhile. Let yourself have a little fun. Whichever way you do it, it’s still all yours. Just don’t limit yourself to an original outline. It’s okay to let your creativity take over.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.
Image courtesy of creativecrossroadsofamericas.org.