Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Are you planning too much?

There are about as many methods of writing as there are writers.  We all like to know how others do it, and workshops and tutorials are very much about finding out.  But beware!

Any technique is only as useful as it helps you at a given moment.  It's all too easy to let the technique overtake the writing.  Technique is there to enhance, not to rule.  If it starts taking over, throw it out the window.

Worrying too much about specific techniques can stop you right at the outline stage.  What's important in a story is what happens.  You can have all the backstory, motivation and characterisation you want, but if there's no action, there's no story.

Don't let methods of planning bog you down.  Work with some technical framework by all means, but like research, set it aside when you write.  Any successful writer will tell you that a story is no use unless it's alive.  If you worry too much about technique, your writing will be wooden and uninspired.  Dead, in other words.

When the story lives for you, it will live for the reader.  You have to be involved.  It can be like watching a film unwind in your imagination as you write about what you see.  That's storytelling.

If this hasn't happened for you, try this:  set a timer for 2 minutes.  Start writing and keep going until the timer goes off.  Don't think and don't stop.  Then go 5 minutes.  Then 15.  By this time you'll probably keep going when the timer goes off.  You may think you're writing rubbish, but I'm willing to bet that what you write will be more alive than anything you've written before.

Put simply, writing the book will shift you into living the book.


  1. "You can have all the backstory, motivation and characterisation you want, but if there's no action, there's no story."

    I think this is my problem. I'm so aware that the Mills & Boon editors want the external plot kept very basic that I'm spending all my time trying to plan the inner story and neglecting to come up with any external action! Not good.

  2. I love the bit where you refer to being able to see the scene unfold in your mind! That's exactly what happens when I'm really into the writing. It's when I start living and breathing the plot as I go through the day. That's when I'm most excited - when I can feel it all.

    Thanks for reminding me about that.