Should You Even Plan Your Novel?
Yes. Planning a novel is a great way to avoid a lot of heartbreak, frustration and wasted time.
“But, Sharon,” you say, “you always say that ‘process is personal.’ How does that track with telling us to plan our novels'”
That is absolutely true! So, when to plan your novel, is totally up to you.
Some writers come at story through a plotting lens, while others, like me, start with character (aka, the voices in my head). In other words, some writers are plotters and and some are discoverers.
Neither method is wrong. Both require the ultimate melding of the two components, plot and character, because these elements work together to create meaningful stories that resonate with readers.
So, you can absolutely jump into planning at the point that works best for you. At the very beginning before a word is written? Sure. After you’ve written your way in? Go for it. You do you! I do, however, recommend you not wait until you have an entire draft that isn’t working.
Why Plan Your Novel?
One big challenge for plotters can be developing fully realized believable characters to drop into the story. When all you have is a series of things happening, without connecting the events to in a meaningful way, the story falls flat. It may seem dramatic, but it won’t resonate and, therefore, won’t stick with your reader once they have closed the book.
On the other hand, despite starting with amazing characters, discovery writers can waste many hours just following their characters around without really knowing where they are headed. A character that wanders without encountering meaningful events will become boring in short order. That’s a recipe for readers to close the book without finishing.
Plan Your Novel As Part of Your Personal Process
Both plotters and discoverers can use planning to their benefit. Planning out the overall structure and the thematic meaning of your novel can give you a clear sense of direction and make the writing process go more quickly and smoothly.
But planning doesn’t have to be done before putting any words at all on the page. If you are a pantser/discovery writer, it can help to get to know your characters better before committing to a plan. One way to do this is to throw them into a challenging situation and see how they react. Add another character, or two, put them at odds, even if they are allies (Think the garbage chute in Star Wars.), and see what happens.
Ask yourself: Who are these people? What do they think and believe? What are their key personality traits? Who or what are they fighting for and against? What makes them tick?
Once you have some idea who they are, you can develop a plot that will force them to grow and develop.
And, plotters, even though you already have a plan/plot, you still need to ask these same questions of the characters you intend to drop into your story. Because who they are and who they will become is going to be tempered and developed by the things that happen to them.
Good story weaves together a variety of craft elements, but a solid plot and believable character are keys to developing compelling narrative that resonates with readers, keeps them reading, and makes your story memorable long after the last page is turned and the book is closed.
Taking Time to Plan Your Novel
Taking time to plan your novel can save a writer a lot of time and heartache, and it can be done at the very beginning before a single word of the narrative is written, or it can take place once the writer has gotten to know more about their characters by writing a few potential scenes.
So, you do you—process is personal, after all—but don’t discount the value of planning your novel at whichever stage works for you.
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