the how of writing · writing

the importance of an unused plan

I have written a scene list for every novel I’ve written with two exceptions.  The first two novels I wrote were done without any idea where the story would take me.  The second one I wrote turned out okay, mostly because I had a very clear idea of where I was going.  It didn’t hurt that it was based on a bunch of myths all strung together into one storyline.

The first didn’t turn out as well.  I had characters who added nothing (thus requiring their death in the revision) and lots of scenes where people thought about where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do.  Not exactly nail-biting action.

So, I wrote a scene list, thinking it would keep me from meandering.  I’d be like other writers who follow their plan and end up with a story similar to what they wanted in the beginning.

However, when it came time to write the rough draft, I mostly ignored it. It was a crazy ride and the only times I looked at the plan were when I had no clue what should happen.  I would then hang my head in embarrassment, decide I couldn’t rip out everything that I’d written for the sake of a list and try to get the story back on its original tracks.  Next time, I swore, I’d be more disciplined.

Next time worked better but I still veered off course more than once.  In fact, I noticed that the more I deviated from the plan, the better the story worked.

So why did I write a scene list for this latest novel I’m working on?  Because I learned that, whether or not I actually use the plan, it helps me think through the whole novel from start to finish.  It gives me an idea of where to go and what’s important so I won’t be planning in the novel itself.  It also helps me foreshadow crucial elements or events so that I don’t go back and rewrite as I’m writing the draft.  It helps me treat my computer less like a computer and more like a typewriter.  And all this, I believe, makes my stories better, whether I follow the plan in the end or not.

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