To Plan Or Not To Plan

Ah, planning. That bugbear of the novice writer. Why should I plan out my story? Did Hemmingway or Dickens plan out theirs?

Here are some thoughts.

Planning can be a necessity. For example, if you’re writing to an assignment. In that case, you may have no choice but to show your producer an outline of some kind. It may be in your contract/option/deal. Sometimes it may simply assuage their fears that you aren’t actually doing anything.

Sometimes a plan can be tremendous help. If you have a complex plot, mapping out the story can help keep track of the various elements. Sometimes a plan can help you with the structure of the story itself. It’s easy to get lost.


Some of the best work I’ve done has been done WITHOUT a plan of any kind. And I’m not alone. Guillermo Arriaga (Babel/Amores Perros etc.) never plans his stories out beyond a general idea. I can’t pretend to speak for him, of course, but in my own humble opinion, here’s why I think it works…


Yes, actual story surprises. Readers love them. Audiences love them even more.

Lack of a plan gives you the freedom to go anywhere, to do anything to your main characters, to employ any crazy twist, even to add someting new to the genre.


At some point I always go back and rewrite at least once (usually more then once) for structure, taking care to FORESHADOW all those great plot twists. Otherwise you get a “What the hell?” moment from the reader (or something like that).


I can’t say. But I would always advocate doing what works for you. If you’re a novice writer, you may want to plan a few scripts before trying this out. If not, and you’re up for the challenge, maybe you should assemble your characters and strike out for parts unknown. Who knows where they will lead you…


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