How important is planning before you start writing?
Everyone is different, so it can be hard to say. They have different approaches, different needs, different ways of thinking. But in all my experience as a writer, planning has always been immensely helpful.
When I was a young, new writer, I would get an idea and just roll with it. I’d write down notes and ideas as I went because I was flowing and I would write and write aaaaand 15-50 pages in I would get stuck. Like, very very stuck. My story had no structure, no plan, no destination. And so it would come to a screeching halt and I’d move onto the next “great idea” because this one obviously wasn’t working.
It honestly wasn’t until college that I finished anything more substantial than a poem. Because it was in college that I started to learn Daniel Methodology (find more info about this on my ‘resources’ page). I won’t go into too much depth, but Daniel Methodology basically gives you a flexible structure for your story. So, when I was feeling totally lost, I could work with a fellow editor, or analyze my own work and see where it could be helped.
But, even better than that, I learned to edit before writing. This may seem foreign to some of you and ‘duh’ to others, but yes, you can edit your story before it’s written. That is the joy of planning. Because, believe me, you don’t want to have a ‘general idea’ of where your story is going, write 70 pages and realize, ‘huh, this isn’t going to work’. How much time was wasted figuring that out?
There are many forms of planning, but I am going to share my favorites:
A synopsis is typically a one page summary of the entire story. You’d be surprised how hard it can be to simplify everything down into one coherent page. But, being able to look at your story in such a condensed form can help immensely when trying to look for global changes that need to be made. When you focus on the big plot points and the overall arc, often you’ll find glaring problem or stuff that just doesn’t seem to fit. And, while writing the synopsis, it can really help you to solidify the core plot of your story.
You all have outlined before, now apply it to your story! People write outlines in all different ways, but basically you’re writing bullet points on what happens in your story step-by-step. This is a wonderful way to get a closer look at your whole story without actually having to write it.
A treatment is like an outline but more detailed. I have only ever used treatments when screenwriting because writing a summary for every scene in a novel could take a very long time. But, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be immensely helpful. So, basically, if you were writing an outline you could have a bullet point that just says ‘Suzie dies’. But, in a treatment you would have a bullet for each scene leading up to Suzie’s death, including Suzie’s death, and the results after, including a summary of who is involved and what they do.
And remember, all of these are flexible. If what I describe as a ‘treatment’ doesn’t quiet work for you, do it your own way. I have done very loose treatments before that are broad summaries of chapters or acts instead of scenes because I know that is what is going to be most helpful to me.
Other forms that people use could be diagrams, organized notes, timelines, etc.
Also know that along with whatever outlines or treatments that I make, I have a bunch of poorly organized notes. Now, I know this is nothing to brag about, but I’m just saying it’s okay not to be perfect. Just get that stuff written down! But, there is something I’ve been meaning to try out to help me organize better:
Let me share something wonderful with you that I just found earlier this year: It’s called World Anvil.
Now, I haven’t delved too deep into this resource yet, but it seems like it’s going to be amazing. It basically is an organized world-building website. You can keep track of characters, history, creatures, etc. They have a place to set up a timeline and I believe they compile this all into a website in which you or your readers can search and read up on everything.
Anywho, this is getting a bit off topic. It does count into the planning phase but is a little more focused on world building which is a whole other blog post (or many, haha). But, before I jump off the world building train, you should also check out Inkarnate. This website allows you to build cool maps for your world.
Both have free options available!