Writing Aid: Planning your Novel

Writing is hard work. I would never discourage anyone from writing, but I would tell them: it’s hard. Because you not only have to write – that wonderful act of connecting your brain to your fingers and your fingers to a pen or a keyboard and seeing words appearing on the page or the screen – but you also have to do hundreds of other things. And one of these things, whether it’s for a short story or a novel, it’s planning.

I used to be one of those non-planning writers, and to a certain extent, for short stories I still am. I love that impulse that comes from having a combination of words in your head, and writing them down to see where they take me. It’s a great journey of discovery and few other thrills are like it, for me.

However, planning is important. I dare say, fundamental. And yes, even for a short story, a few notes, a quick trajectory mapping your themes, your character/s’ path, will make your story better, more cohesive, with every word resonating with the others.

Look at this, Catch 22 outline/plan:

Catch 22 plan

You can find more example of writers’ writing plans here in this Flavorwire article: Authors Handwritten Outlines

(and I so want to turn all of those into posters, or even a wall paper!).

Fascinating, isn’t it?

As I said, I used to be a non-planner, but I’ve changed (David Bishop, I’m looking at you). Now I know WHY you should plan your novel.

Planning doesn’t take away any of the joys (jouissance, there, I said it) of writing, on the contrary. And here are the reasons WHY you should outline/plan your novel (novella and/or short story):

  1. because you can see how your ideas pan out BEFORE you’ve written yourself in a corner
  2. because you can make sure all the parts fit in the whole, with the PACING you think it’s right for your story
  3. because you can play with your STRUCTURE before you’ve spent hours, weeks, maybe months writing pages that don’t fit
  4. because you can determine what parts you really NEED in your story
  5. because you can insure each of your characters has a ROLE to play, with its own trajectory, not merely serving the plot
  6. because you can see how the THEMES and IDEAS for the story fit and return and resonate throughout your structure
  7. because once you have a SOLID OUTLINE, then you can write without fear and just enjoy what surprises and adjustments the narrative will bring you

Next time you sit down with an idea in your mind, outline it. Make it yours. Make it a map of your narrative that you can follow and choose your path on, and where you and your characters and ideas will never get lost.

I’d like to know if you plan or outline, and how you do it. I find that paper is still the best way for me, and only after I can put it on a Word document, but there’s also specialized software and post it notes on the wall: what’s your system?

And if you don’t have one, why?



Filed under Fiction, Writing

5 responses to “Writing Aid: Planning your Novel

  1. Do you think if I made sure my characters didn’t get lost I would stop getting lost myself? In unknown towns I mean, not psychically!


    • It’s a possibility, although I also had weird experiences with taxi drivers not knowing where to go in their own city! I thought that was their job, silly me. Unknown towns are unplanned narratives in psychogeography 😉


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