Plotting, Improvising And Writing That Pesky Novel

Certain . . . “happenings” have prompted me to talk about plotting verses improvising. That “happening” being me completely disregarding the outline I rushed to “complete” during the days before November. Here’s something I just found out about myself (although, in hindsight, I should have seen this coming), I’m an improviser at heart. I love just winging it, even if I know that an outline will make it much more likely that I won’t end up somewhere I don’t want to be. Because here’s the thing, not even five hundred words into my NaNoWriMo novel I was already deviating from my outline and planning out in my head where I wanted things to go, that only very vaguely matched that of my outline.

I could say I basically just wasted my time even bothering to write an outline, but if I hadn’t tried to follow one, I wouldn’t have found out that mine is the last mind that will be restrained by a rigid, structured outline. You’re unlikely to find your ideal writing process on your first try. Although, to be fair, I was an improviser to begin with . . . and to be fair, that hasn’t gotten me very far.

So . . . Plotting and improvising. Let’s get into my ramblings about it.

I was originally going to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each, but then I realised that I can make this much more concise . . . and make less work for myself.

I don’t think it’s such a black and white topic that can be answered with one always being better than the other. Every writer is different, in many respects. What may work for one person may not work for another, and like I said, you’re unlikely to find your ideal way of writing on your first try. Sure, plotting and improvising have their advantages and disadvantages, but I suppose when choosing which way to go, it depends more on what kind of writer you are.

If you like knowing what you’re going to write, if you like structuring your novel, if you like creating elaborate diagrams of the relationships between the characters and other things of the like, then of course plotting will be right up your street. If you like only having a vague idea of where your novel is going and making the rest up as you go along, if you find knowing exactly what’s going to happen boring, if you like being able to write things as they come to you, not being restrained by an outline, then of course improvising is for you.

Some will say plotting takes the fun out of writing, and the plots are rigid and easily predictable, while others will say improvising is likely to produce a sub-par novel, ridden with plot holes, inconsistencies and underdeveloped subplots. That’s all probably true, but then again, first drafts are always going to be a pile of . . . First drafts aren’t exactly winning any literary awards, regardless of how they are written.

Me? I’m not exactly a plotter, but I always have an idea of how my stories start, some of the random crap that goes on in the middle, and how they end. Even if it’s not written down, that’s always the first thing I do . . . Only, it would be, if the first thing wasn’t getting down the main characters. I need to get the setting down, too . . . And random, needless information about the characters that will probably never make it into the novel is a must . . . All that, I do, but an outline, I do not! I’m a born improviser . . . when it comes to the plot.

As we’ve found out, even if I write an outline, it’s not as if I’ll stick to it, but whatever method works for you, go for it.

Well, I’m off to improvise the hell out of this novel.

Happy writing!

Laurence out.