Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Writing Planner

How much do you plan things out when you write?

I don't like to plan too much. I like to discover as I write -- for me, that's one of the great joys of writing.

But on the other hand, if you plan too little there's the danger of getting lost and rambling and creating scenes and characters and situations that never connect and cohere to the larger whole.

I like Joshua Henkin's take on this issue:

"I'm not a map-things-out kind of writer. I believe it was Mary McCarthy who said that she writes in order to find out what will happen, and I'm that way myself. I always start with what I believe is the beginning—it's important to me to be writing forward—even if it turns out that I'm grossly mistaken. In the case of Matrimony, I started with a college reunion because that was where I thought the book began. Now there is a college reunion in the novel, but it comes twenty years and nearly three hundred pages into the book. My next novel I've mapped out a little more, but even that's a very tentative mapping out, and I want to make sure that I allow myself to veer from the path I've staked out for myself. This is a tension that any writer faces—between planning out too little and planning out too much. If you plan out too little, you can end up writing a lot of pretty sentences about mountains and sunsets that don't go anywhere. If you plan out too much, you can end up injecting characters into a preordained plot and you get what a friend of mine calls Lipton-Cup-a-Story. What I try to do is to set my fiction in situations where something important can take place—where there's potential for conflict—but not to know too far in advance how that conflict will play out. That way the imagination can take over."


Ethel Rohan said...

I'm in the "discover as I write" camp. Thanks for this great excerpt.

xTx said...

Hi. I didn't read this blog entry yet, but I will.

I just read your Northville piece and it was very nice. But what I wanted to let you know is that I completely LOVED your Titular piece, Kramer Vs. Kramer. So awesome. Just had to tell you.

xTx said...

okay, read the blog entry and I'm in the same camp as Ethel. How can you pre-plan a story when characters usually organically grow and change throughout the process? At least, for me, anyway.

Andrew Roe said...

I'm w/ both of you, Ethel and xTx. I think w/ longer stories and novels a little more planning is necessary (at least for me), but even when I plan, I often ditch or divert from the plan because the writing and characters take me places I couldn't have anticipated.

And xTx: thanks so much for reading both stories. They're pretty different. So glad that you dug Kramer vs. Kramer. Thanks for stopping by...