To Plot or Not to Plot?

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To Plot or Not to Plot?

That is the question.

No, literally, that is the question.

Straightforward enough, isn't it?

But, I've asked this question before and people usually reply by saying something along the lines of, "Do what works for you." or the dreaded, "Follow your intuition!" Now, if my intuition had GIVEN me an answer, I would gladly follow it, but for now, it's quieter than a mouse. In fact, I might've gone ahead and killed it... by accident. But, you know, it's really a question of do I have to plot every single detail from the color of my character's eyes to their birth date to their parents' wedding, or can I just "wing it"?

So, what do you guys think?

Please, at least say more than my intuition...

Well Claudia there's no doubt that you have posed an interesting question. Like most complex issues I don't believe there to be one absolute answer. It very much depends on the type of story that you are intending to write. For example if you are writing historical fiction like Mantel's "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up The Bodies" the plot - or at least the overarching events and structures are already in place. There may well be, in an instance like this, that the author has some licence to play with the narrative but the overarching "plot" is established befor ethe onset of the writing. In non-historical fiction writing the author is responsible for the weft and weave of the whole narrative and I guess that this is the circumstance in which your question is based. I suppose the answer really depends on the type of psychology of the author themselves. Some probably don't like the "uncertainty" that a lateral approach to the narrative naturally brings, preferring to stay in the comfort of having all the plot variable worked out in advance. Others (possibly most writers?) operate on a less literal basis. Creating the plot variance as the narrative unfolds before them on the page. I do think that it would be an exception (even for those who prefer a literal approach to plot creation) for an author not to have something occur 'intuitively' as you put it, and blend an erstwhile unplanned twist in the narrative. Sometimes writers write themselves into a cul de sac and then from out of the blue a plot solution turns up unannounced. It's when this last phenomenon dries up when the real problems start. After all that I'm not convinced I have really given you an answer - save for the one that says the is no definitive answer to give - it depends......


If you don't know where the novel is going, then you'll get to around 25k words or so, then get totally stuck at a point where you no longer know where the story is going. It'll then go into the file of non finished work. If you plot and plan it out all in advance, by the time you go to write it, you'll be bored of it. Personally, my favourite way of writing recently has been to follow a three act play structure. I'll take act one and I know where that will end. I'll write it out and end it with a cliff hanger to then write out act 2, knowing where it will go. Now by the time you've got through act 2, you're ready to start the concluding part. And the whole thing was broken down into bite size chunks. That's why we have breakfast, lunch and dinner: you can't eat it all in one giant sitting...


So if you make each part 25k words, you'll have a 100k novel that your mind has seen as being 3 mini stories that all link and follow on.


For me plot is everything but most of my stories are for young children. I find that knowing how a story is going to end usually helps. Also there are some useful plot tropes you can use like "Chekhov's Gun" and the "Unreliable Narrator".
It really depends on what you are writing. I daresay very few plan poems, for obvious reasons. The reason I seldom plan stories is because of most of the stories I write are short stories so I just begin writing and see where it takes me. This is usually because the only times I write are when some amazing line visits my head and I just have to get it down, and the rest follows. I did a huge revamp of my page this morning and removed a lot of stories to make it more accessible, but if you happened to read any of my work before, then you would have noticed that my longer stories tend to lack description, pace and detail due to the fact that I do not make my plot line evident before I begin to write. The advantages of writing out a plot beforehand are that you know where you are going with that particular story, and so you can confidently add details that enhance it because you know they will make sense later on (if that made sense!) Natalia xx

Natalia :)

It seems everyone has a different way and different advice, and unfortunately the short answer is this: you have to do what is best for you. The long answer is a bit different. I can only speak from my own experience, but I have written books in various ways. Some were written very much in the moment and I had no idea what was coming out on the day. But, I had a vague idea of where I wanted the story to go. With others I plotted out the basic details. I wrote a long synopsis and used that. Think of each paragraph of synopsis as a chapter. There's a lot of detail that finds it's way in as the story is being written. Others were a mixture of the two. I find as I mature and gain experience as a writer this is what works best for me. I'm writing a new one at the moment and posting as I write on ABC. I have a rough idea of where it's going, but the journey takes on a life of it's own and surprises even me. To answer your question more directly. You will find a way that works best for you. There are some excellent suggestions here, grover I like the idea of doing three 25k chunks, I might try that with the next one. Good luck, and please let us know what you end up doing! Lisa

It seems rather straightforward to me that this your decision. You of course do not wish to mix rhetorical patterns and break Irish literacy conventions. Your first problem is solved by accepting your inner true voice the decider. The second befuddlement is the audience. What are the demographics of the audience you seek? You do realize your tales must be within their cultural biases of enjoyment. Sorry if I sound patronizing. I am not. A good writer sees the seams with belief they can expand their inner voice.

I'm wondering if I sound religious for my words might make you think I'm a grasshopper.

I'm not sure if this will help you, but I say both.  I break it down into the idea--which I'm sure you do-- then I write my first scene, middle scene, and last scene.  Then break everything in between down to a short story--even if I'm writing a short story--with a mind mapping software to "plot" it.  I like mindmaps because it's a good break from structure with informal planning. You end up with a ton of logically linked ideas to choose from, without the standard A--> B --> C way of thinking.


xmind is my favorite, but there are lots to choose from for all available platforms.


Hope that helped a little.