A quick plan to guide your writing session
Updated: Mar 30, 2019
While writing is a creative activity, to ensure your project is finished in a timely manner and has a good shape you need to have a plan. Planning can be arduous though and put you off from sitting down to write in the first place.
Planned spontaneity is the perfect writing compromise. I spend a lot of time thinking about my characters and imagining different scenarios. The scenarios I play out in my mind invariably change by the time I put them to paper. But, having a rough idea gives me direction for when I sit down to write.
When I first started writing it was purely for me. I didn't plan what I was going to write. Lying in bed struggling to sleep, I would open up my laptop and start typing. The story spilled forth and found its own way. Sometimes even I was amazed at how well things worked out and tied together for my plot. But this created problems further down the line and led to a lot of editing on my part. And so, I started to meticulously plan.
But, when I have a full-blown plan I try too hard to mould my narrative. If I know my main character needs to stop off at X,Y and Z and interact with A, B and C and find out L,M and N then my writing becomes too forced. The plot becomes contrived and obvious.
Planned spontaneity is the solution. It is the art of having a rough plan to give you the confidence and direction you need to write without having every moment within your work mapped out.
When to use planned spontaneity?
Planned spontaneity is the art of planning a destination and a direction but not too much that you know every stop along the way.
This method is particularly useful for writing smaller chunks of your novel. If my goal for the day is to write 1000 words first I quickly make some bullet points - mental or physical. These bullet points tell me where I want to be by the end of the 1000 words and what I want to happen along the way.
Let's look at an example. Imagine I am writing a gothic retelling of the little red riding hood.
Example 1 - Overarching plot
- Young woman lives in a town plagued by werewolves
- Befriends werewolf
- Becomes werewolf herself
- Learns werewolf secret
- Must choose between werewolves or her town
The above bullet points, are very rough and give you the bare bones of your novel. I wouldn't recommend planned spontaneity to plan your overarching plot.
Example 2 - Chapter
- Red walking in the woods to visit Grandma
- Falls and twists ankle
- Young man (werewolf) finds her and helps her get home
- Red is reserved but intrigued by man
These bullet points map out a chapter quite well, but will rely on a lot more brainpower on your part to bring the nuances of your story to life.
Example 3 - Interaction - 1,000 words
- Red on floor with sprained ankle
- Werewolf walks by and offers help
- Red refuses
- Werewolf threatens to call her Dad (difficult relationship between Red and Dad)
- Red reluctantly agrees
- They walk together
Conversations or smaller chunks of writing work perfectly for planned spontaneity.
Remember the spontaneity
Don't be disheartened when your plot veers off in a completely different direction to your plan. That's where the spontaneity comes in. Because you haven't spent hours slaving away over a plan your mind is still free to be creative and take your story and characters in new directions. And these moments are, in my experience, usually some of the best.
Planning is important but not when it is detrimental to your writing. Every author writes in a unique fashion - someone like Stephen King will sit down and write a story in one burst. While other authors plan meticulously and then sit down to write. Michael Morpurgo dedicates a lot of thinking time to his narratives before he crafts his stories.
The truth is there is no right way to write.
And remember, anything that has gone wrong in the planning phase will be ironed out when you edit your work.