When writing fiction, should you plan it all out ahead of time or make it up as you go? That’s the $64,000 question.

July 10, 2013 4:35 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

There are two schools of thought regarding writing fiction: develop all (or most) details of your story before you start writing or make it up as you go.  I remember going to a Maui Writers Conference and sitting in on a session devoted to this topic.

In the first camp are those authors who create an outline so detailed that the book practically writes itself.  They argue that this is the only way to create fiction, that if you don’t do this, you’ll end up going down erroneous paths that will waste a lot of writing time.  It’s hard to argue with that rationale.

On the other side of the great divide are those authors who say: “Are you crazy?  By planning everything out initially, you’re stifling your creative instinct.  There are so many more interesting paths your story can take if you make it up on the fly.”

Who is correct?  Both, obviously.  There are successful authors who do it both ways.  So how do I do it?

I’m a very organized person, sometimes to the point of obsession, with Virgo-like tendencies.  My wife, Becky, will tell you this is true.  I plan things out in detail.  My desk is organized, and if it isn’t, I can’t wait to whip it back into shape.

So, it should be obvious to you (and me) that I outline my stories completely before I ever lay finger to key.  Believe me, I’m as surprised as you when I say that I don’t do it that way.  I do, in fact, make it up as I go.  My primary reader (Robin Brody) and I develop the concept (which can take months), and I go from there.

To summarize, to each his own.  But if I were asked by someone starting out which way to go, I’d recommend playing it safe at first.  I’d suggest laying out the story before writing.  And if you start writing fiction like I did, by writing short stories, you’ll know soon enough which way is best for you.


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