Do fiction authors fully plan their story before entering the first keystrokes of chapter one? In other words, do they have a clear ‘storyboard’ mapped out chapter by chapter before they allow their creative juices to start flowing?
I’m sure many of them do, but I like to think that many more allow themselves the freedom to be taken where the story leads. I’m firmly in the camp of those who fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to writing. And I make no excuses for it.
Yes, there has to be some kind of pre-planning and pre-plotting, but don’t let anybody out there kid you into believing there’s an overall formula for writing novels. The plain fact is that there isn’t one. Authors are individuals and will do it twenty-ways-from-Sunday differently than the guy next door. It’s good to learn from all the preferred methodologies but there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all model to help the budding author. SEE MORE AT:

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I can only speak for myself. It's definitely a fusion of the two. I typically have a rough idea of where I am going, sometimes more than others. But usually a lot happens by the end that I didn't plan to happen. Sometimes the ending I had in mind changes totally, or only becomes the halfway point. Oftentimes, I don't know if a particular character will survive the story or not until the climax. With Novel 7, I actually started it with a fairly down-low crime story that was pretty tame compared to my first 3 crime novels, and then in the second half, a twist developed and it arguably became my most violent story yet.

Jonathan, I am a lot like you. In my most recent book I still hadn't decided to 'kill off' a lead character until the last part of the last chapter! I usually set out an overall outline of the plot but I end up taking so many twists and turns that it usually strays far from the original concept. But those are the bits I like best!

I think for me, it's even less that so many twists happen and more that the direction becomes clearer as I go. A lot of times I actually do have an idea of where it's going for most of the story, but there are two possible outcomes I can't decide between and it takes awhile to be sure of the right one. I think I try to find a balance between letting the story write itself and steering the story from going too far off the rails. (Which has threatened to happen quite a bit.) I think that's part of the fun though. If we can experience our story that first time with a degree of uncertainty, as our readers will, perhaps we can understand their perspective a bit.

I tried Scene Cards once, which is a form of outlining, I guess, but the story changed so much over time, I'll never do it again. After 14 novels (two published), I've decided I don't really know what my story IS until I complete the first draft.

That's the way I go Jack. My storyline almost evolves as I go from chapter to chapter.

I have a general idea where I'm going--a vague and blurry roadmap that's wrong as much as it's right.  I usually have to write the first two thirds of the book before I know who the killer/whatever is.  I don't care about plot that much, though--mostly I'm in it for the jokes.

I like to have every scene laid out before I start, as I write better when I know what I'm describing. The outline is flexible, and the scene descriptions are vague. Mostly I need to know what happens in this scene. How it happens, or how I get into it, i make up as i go along. I just need to know what I have to have accomplished so i can get to the next scene.

Usually when I get to about page two hundred I stop and look at the mess I've created and try and figure a way out.

When I worked in TV I saw where storyboards and tight outlining is really needed - when you have to have a story fit into 48 minutes, when you have to film in studio four days and on location three and when you have to use certain actors specific amounts of time and so on.




I'm envious of people who outline.  The writing must go really quickly then.  I used to outline research papers.  Can't do one of those without a really well-thought-out outline including the examples that will be used to support the argument.  And, of course, I've taught organization.  But I cannot work that way with fiction.  And like Jon, I don't care much about plot.  Plot is there to carry a story about people.  Character is what matters.

Darn it, IJ, I'm going to try this your way. I've started a new novel, and one character has taken over, ruining my mental roadmap for a plot. But this time I'm going to let the character tell me what the story should be. It's a powerful voice. I'm going to listen.

Hi Jack - that's exactly what grabbed me with one of my characters. It worked for me and I hope it works for you!


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