Monday 31 October 2011

To plan or not to plan?

I went to Westonbirt Arboretum on Saturday.  Crowds had flocked to see the Autumn colours and we were directed to an overflow car park.  I've been there a few times, but it's easy to get lost as the paths, which have names such as 'Main Drive' and 'Loop Walk' twist and wind through the trees.  Usually we get a map but we forgot to ask for one when paying for our tickets. 
            The sky was blue that day and the light dappled through the trees, which were an assortment of colours; red, yellow, shades of green and brown.  Pine cones, acorns, twigs, logs, bark, leaves and dust covered the ground.  Usually we work out our route at the beginning and end up dithering because we see a path which we want to take.  We look at the map to see whether this path will lead us back to where we started or to the café, where we can get coffee and cake.  On this occasion we had a better time without the map because we just went with the flow.
            These two approaches to tackling the route at Westonbirt Arboretum could be compared to how we write a novel. I wrote the first draft of my first novel in about eight weeks (ie. without a map). Since then I've spent several years knocking it into shape by reading creative writing books, talking it over with writing friends and by going to classes where I've had my work critiqued.  It is almost there and I plan to send it to an agent in November.
            During the summer holidays I came up with an idea for a second book.  We were in Brittany and I decided that most of the book would be set in France. I came up with a rough outline for the plot, gave my main characters names and typed a few key scenes into a spreadsheet. When I've sent my first book to an agent, I want to get stuck into this second book.
            The question is now I understand Aristotle's Incline (see below), should I plan this next book scene by scene? (ie. use a map) If I do this, it would be like following the map around Westonbirt Arboretum without deviating from the planned route. When writing a scene, I always come up with ideas which impact the plot.  I've decided to spend a bit of time planning the key scenes and the subplots.  I'll make notes on the main characters, the confidante and the antagonist.  After that I think I'll just dive in and see what happens.

Just found a link which gives a simple explanation of Aristotle's Incline:

Did you plan your second book more than your first because you knew how?
I'd be interested to read your comments, answering this question or on anything relating to the above.


  1. I must admit I plan in quite a lot of detail - not to any specific framework (a certain number of scenes or plot twists etc) - but I do have an idea of how many chapters I'm going to write, and roughly what will be in them, before I start.

    This approach dates back to the first novel I started to write a few years back. I got stuck around a third of the way though, and sent a partial to Hilary Johnson's advisory service for advice. Hilary's reader gave me a vast amount of useful feedback. Lots of it was very specific, but she also asked me if I'd thought about the shape of my story, how much I was going to devote to each section, where key events might occur etc. It was a real eye opener for me. I think I thought if I was a proper writer it all ought to happen by magic!

    Now I find if I've got an outline it gives me the confidence to dive in. However, like you, I find the story develops and changes as I go along and I'm not at all rigid about sticking to my original outline. For me though, there's something about the security of having that plan in an Excel spreadsheet - even if I change it fifty times as I go along.

  2. I've had 55 novels published and I've never planned one and stuck to the plan - so I gave up trying. Really, it's not right or wrong to plan, it's what works for you. I plan the setup situation, do any basic research, then set my characters moving and follow them through the story.

    Do some research into yourself, Anita. That's the part most people leave out. How do you work best?

  3. I'm a shocking planner. In life as well as in writing. Haphazard, getting there in the end, usually, is about as far as my 'system' goes. I'm only here to express my admiration for the post. I know Westonbirt very well and your description took me right there. Very nice link into your query on writing methods as well. A very well written piece, as with all you add to your blog. I'm a big fan.

  4. I like your approach. I often try to plan, but I often find, the times that I don't are the times when I feel that my writing is freer! You have a great blog.

  5. I am attempting NaNo for the third year in a row. I have decided to take things slowly and yes to plan a little bit of where I am going. That way I hope to stay with this book, rather than abandon it, like I have the two other attempts.