I’m just going to admit it.  I am not one of those people who can sit at the computer and “see where a character takes me”—and I never will be.  I recognize and respect that every writer is different, but from my experience, planning—or crafting as I prefer to call it—is one of the most vital aspects of writing fiction.  I simply can’t in good conscious advocate another way.


Photo by Sean MacEntee

Some may argue that outlines, etc. hinder creativity, but I’d like to suggest the opposite.  Crafting your novel in advance will free your imagination and enable you to produce a more satisfying read.  Here’s why.

Fiction Is Supposed to Make Sense

Mark Twain said itTom Clancy said it.  And now I’m repeating it.  The difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.

I tried writing a novel without planning once—I ended up producing slightly fictionalized versions of things that happened to me and my friends.  The scenes didn’t fit into a broader theme because I didn’t have one.  None of the choices I made had more than a surface-level meaning. (For an example of the potential perils of this approach, check out this blog post.)

For my latest manuscript, I organized the plot in advance and thought deeply about the characters, their motivations and story goals (with the help of the Snowflake method).  Of course a lot of things changed along the way, but I always knew the core components of my story well.  At any point in the process, I could have given you a one-sentence description of my novel because the big picture was very clear to me.

That was freeing.

What I discovered was that planning in advance gives you direction and purpose as you write.  The song playing in the background, the article the character reads, the case she is working on—they all matter.  They all must in some way reflect the theme of the novel or the sentiment of the scene.

And it's fun crafting details that you know have a deeper significance—some obvious to reader, some not.  You get the sense that you're creating art rather than simply recording your observations.  It's crazy but organization does that.

You’ll Do a Better Job Foreshadowing and Distracting

Every novel must do it—foreshadow and distract.  You foreshadow key revelations or big decisions by sprinkling hints of what’s to come.  When it does happen, it makes sense to the reader whether they have anticipated it or not.  At the same time, you also must include a few distractions (e.g., an alternative suitor for your heroine) to occasionally steer the reader in the wrong direction so your plot isn’t too predictable.  These elements will make reading your story a more satisfying experience.

It’s simply easier to foreshadow and distract if you know what’s going to happen.  Planning makes this process more organic than adding these elements after the fact.

An Outline Isn't a Novel

I just want to get this out of the way.  I’ve heard many people say that they don’t like the idea of being confined by an outline (or other form of planning). To that my response is this: an outline is not a novel.

I don’t care how long or detailed it is—trust me, once the outline is finished you’ll still have plenty more to do.  Planning only takes care of some of the structural and organizational aspects.  Even if you know the major plot points, you still have to creatively write innovative paths for your characters to get there.

How do you plan your writing?


Take fifteen minutes to outline or plan a scene that has something to do with freedom.  Now write it.  Share with us below!

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

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