To plan or not to plan

When I’m writing, I usually spend a lot of time planning. I write synopses of chapters, draw diagrams, character profiles, timelines, maps… I enjoy this process sometimes as much as the writing itself. I really like to be able to “see” a scene before I start writing it, to put all the components down on paper how I pictured them playing out in my head. That doesn’t mean that once I start writing the scene in question it won’t change here and there, if required – I never truly know how it’s going to turn out until I start writing it. But having that plan gives me something to aim for, and hopefully means I won’t forget anything I definitely wanted to include.

Some planning for my latest novel

But, all this begs the question of how necessary planning is, and whether it is really just a matter of preference as to whether writers do it or not. I find it enjoyable to do, but also particularly useful if I’m writing something quite complex, to make sure I don’t forget which characters have done what, when.

  • It helps with consistency – making sure everything helps fits together properly
  • It’s useful when the story involves a slow reveal of information, to both characters and the reader
  • Which characters know what? Who do they tell, and when? This can be crucial to the story
  • How much does the reader know at certain points of the story? This too can be crucial for the element of surprise – if things are revealed in the wrong order, the climactic moment might lose all its impact


I know, though, that some writers don’t plan at all. I have been known to sometimes write in this way, though not very often – just to sit down with a notebook or in front of the computer and just write down whatever comes to me next, with just a vague premise of the story in my head. I can be a good way to write, leading to some good organic work. I wonder sometimes whether you can tell, as a reader, what planning techniques an author might have employed, if any? And whether certain methods work better for certain types of story?


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