Plan or Improvise?

Which camp do you fall into? Do you plan your novel extensively before you write a single word? Or, do you improvise as you go along?

A friend is starting a new novel at the same time I’m working on a new novel and it’s interesting to see the difference in our approach.

PlanAheadCharacter. He’s all about character and says that he just tries to set up the characters, then get out of the way and let them do things. He creates them intuitively. He doesn’t want to know what comes next because that would be boring.

I like character, too, but can’t get my characters to work without getting to know them pretty well, by which I mean, some deliberate reflections about who they are and how they would react in different situation. I want to know how the character fits into the plot, the setting, the overall tone, the voice, the imagery–then, I can start writing.

Plot. My friend rarely worries about plot. He has some ideas about where the story will go, but seems to be able to relentlessly push the characters into conflict.

I like knowing the ending and some of the high points before I start. It’s not a complete, obsessive, scene-by-scene synopsis; but it’s some structure. Again, I like having some gestalt–an overarching idea of the story–and how this piece fits into the bigger picture.

Big Picture or Seat-of-your-Pants?

Of course, either way works for that first draft. I believe that in the revision phase, you DO have to take a look at the big picture to make sure everything fits into place.

First drafts are about getting the story on paper, however you need to. Revisions are about putting the story into the most dramatic format possible, so the reader sticks with you for the whole story.

So, however you want–just get the story on paper.

5 responses to “Plan or Improvise?”

  1. I used to plan much more than I do now. I dive in more quickly on new ideas – and in some ways I’m having more luck. Probably it’s because I’ve been writing so long. ;-) Practice does help!

    I still have a basic idea before I start though – and I know the big points or where it’s headed. I mean, you gotta have *some* idea of what you’re going to write and some excitement about exploring the idea and characters and the juicy plot!

  2. I agree, Kimberley. I do less planning than I used to–sometimes. I really do want to know where I’m going, though.


  3. Catherine:
    For sure main points!
    I really like to know setting, too, and how it relates to the story.