The Downside of Not Planning

There are two different fields of thought in the NaNo world. Either you are a planner and plan the events of your novel before they happen, or you are known as a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants).

For years, I was a dedicated planner. I knew my world. I knew my characters. I knew the story, since I’d been replaying the events in my head for months. I would know 90% of what took place in the story before I even began it. I was baffled by the people who talked about their characters taking over the story, not knowing what was going to happen next, and trying to figure out the plot hole they had accidentally just created.

Instead of accepting that I was different than most NaNoers, I thought that I was doing it wrong. It was only my second NaNo, and it was my first time browsing the forums. I decided that the following year, I’d write without a plan with a completely new story and “do it right.”

I did manage to eke out a novel that year, but it was hard for me to do. I didn’t know the characters, had only a vague sense of the story, and had no clue what was going to happen on the next page. My main character had amnesia, so she didn’t know a great deal of what had taken place before. It was perfect, since I didn’t know what had taken place before. I had people read my first chapter and go, “It’s perfect! You can feel her confusion!” I had to laugh, since I was confused over the same thing my character was.

I was at a writer’s conference one year, and our teacher said his writing process was like walking around in a dark room. He walks in, discovers chairs and tables, discerns a path, and eventually finds a light switch that illuminates the whole room. Now that I’ve actually used such an approach, that analogy makes more sense than it did at the time.

I did learn from that NaNo that I do better writing with a bit of planning. I don’t need every little detail planned out in advance, but it helps my sanity to prepare the story before it’s penned. With that said, though, I have discovered I’m a mixture of the two groups. I generally have the story arc planned out, but the details of how the heroes journey from point A to B is usually not discovered until it’s time to write the scene. Since I tend to write pretty quickly, I think this approach is what works best for me. I have now experimented with both writing camps and am happy with my mixture. It’s who I am.

So, why have I bored you to death with my writing process? Because not everything that happens during NaNo is entirely planned. This year, I decided to write about racing squirrels. I met the characters about three weeks before November and named them the week before we began writing. I only knew their personalities. That was it. Once November hit, I started with what I knew. I kept writing, desperately hoping for the light switch to be turned on so I could figure out how to write my ending. I really, really like to know my endings before I begin.
My light switch moment occurred sometime last week. It was tough, since I was behind schedule, but I finished my first story of the NaNo season on Saturday.

Since I’ve committed to a word count, I’m starting a new story. I’ve narrowed down my subject matter, and it looks like I’ll be following the princess stories again. I thought I was done with the series. Of course, I thought that last year during the last NaNo. I ended up writing another book after the one I started in NaNo. I don’t know if this story will end up being another chapter in the series, or if it will just be something to clear my head and explore a new possibility.

Either way, I will likely have a lot of fun returning to a land I know and characters that are largely the same. My only problem is that I’m still not sure about the ending. I know what I’d like to happen, just not sure how to make that feasibly possible.

Guess there’s only one way to find out.

Fellow writers, chime in. Do you plan your stories or not?

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Downside of Not Planning

  1. I usually have an idea of a story when I start to write, but my characters and plot grow as the words appear on the page. I’ve tried plotting, I really have. I love what plotting can do for a complex story. But I can’t seem to plot in advance. My most recent novel I did do a decent amount of plotting about a quarter in, but it was all loose and flowing until the scenes were written.

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