There are two ways of planning a story. We can either:
a) get an exciting idea, jump on its back, shout ‘Yee-hah’ and gallop off blindly in whatever direction it takes us, or
b) sit down with a blank piece of paper, write out the ideas as they come and then laboriously poke, prod and plan them into some kind of order until we have a shapely and meticulously plotted structure and all we have to do is to write the thing out in prose so perfect that we never have to go back and correct anything.
I know authors who do (a) and are proud of it. I have heard of authors who say they can do (b). I’m a sort of b/a, myself. I think most writers must be.
The fact is, random galloping is a great way to start a novel, but it can mean that we end up thrown into in a swamp or a hedge somewhere half way round the course and that the way home from there will be a bit of a struggle. Also, if we only ever begin our stories when such fits of enthusiasm seize us, the number of stories that actually get begun may not be very many.
So we start by trying to do b. We write down the ideas that we’ve had. We decide on a beginning. We decide on an ending. We get a string of stuff to go in between (we’re not quite sure how) and, as we work, we become increasingly aware that we have a lot of gaps.
This, of course is where the true B comes into their own. They fill the gaps in, carefully and meticulously, until every entrance and exit has been sketched and every indrawn breath has been timed to the letter. Only then will they begin to write. I, on the other hand, stare stupidly at my semi-blank page until my brain aches and I start feeling that whatever I sketch in now won’t really work when the time comes to write it down. Let’s face it. What I have here isn’t really a plan. It’s more like a set of possible stepping stones across the swamp. When I get to that bit I will know what to do next. But the gap between one stone and the next is still looking very swampy.
So, keep planning, or start anyway? I know by now that I write best and fastest when I have a clear idea of what’s coming and how it is all going to fit together. But some ideas only come once I’ve started writing. Some problems only resolve themselves when I’m right up against them. And sometimes they resolve themselves because of stuff that I’ve written in spontaneously, earlier in the narrative. The risk of trying to plan everything is that we stifle our own creativity. We end up leaving enthusiasm in the stable. So…
So, all right then. Yee-hah.