To plan, or not to plan? or how much to plan?

How do you start that latest potential blockbuster idea of a story? Do you let it flow or plan each step before that first word hits the screen.

So how do you start that latest potential blockbuster idea you’ve got for a story?  I’ve seen advice that suggests everything from write and just let it happen through to having a detailed plot and plan fully mapped out before you start writing.signpost2  I guess for most of us its somewhere in between, isn’t it?  I’d love to know how others approach a new project.

Stephen King in his book on writing is more towards the ‘let it flow’ end of the spectrum.  He suggests most books start with a ‘What if ?’ question.  That’s something I can relate to.  He then suggests that you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and see where it takes you.

My first book, ‘Ancestral Dreams’  (now, not too far from publication) started with the ‘what if?’ beings such as elves, centaurs and fairies were aliens that had visited Earth early in man’s history and had then passed into legend and folklore.  So when we’re ready for interstellar travel they are out there, waiting for us.  After that, in Stephen King fashion, it seemed to write itself.  For my second book, ‘Project Noah’ I knew where it was going to start and where I wanted to end up, but the journey between the two was something of a mystery until it appeared on the page.  Although, as it developed certain ‘milestones’ in that journey became obvious.

pointingThe third book , working title ‘Bleak’, was more difficult.  I had the ‘what if?’ and a starting point.  It then wrote itself for a while until I got stuck.  There were several directions it could have gone, so then I did plan the second half.  Not least so I didn’t get side tracked and confused myself.

So my from my own experience the conclusion is, essentially, whatever works for you at the time.  Don’t worry if your method is not the same as your favourite author, or some ‘how to write a best seller’ book.  My guess is everyone does it differently.  In my case that includes from book to book.  Even with short stories I find some naturally flow, while others I get a few paragraphs in and then have to sit and scratch my head for a while working out where it’s going.

The best advice – just get on and write.  Don’t let a need to plan stop you, or become an excuse for not writing.  You can always change it.  It’s not like life – you can go back and put things in, if later flashes of inspiration take you down a previously un-signposted road.  Finally, plan as you need to, but don’t let it get in the way of the characters.  Once you get to know them, listen to them.  They’ll often suggest how things are going to unfold for themselves.

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

If you have a view on this, let me know: