Do you have a plan?
I don’t know about you, but I need a certain amount of structure and order in my life. I usually accomplish more if I know what I have to do and have a time set aside to do it. With a list, a plan, or a schedule, I often have more flexibility if a new priority or emergency comes up. I also like to have time to think over decisions I have to make. Spontaneity isn’t usually comfortable for me.
As an author, you know a good story has structure. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It involves characters, conflict, tension, and action. And from beginning to end, the main character is on a journey to achieve a goal or to learn something important about himself or herself or life. Do you outline your story, or do you start to write and see where the characters and plot lead you?
In his book Story Structure: The Key to Successful Fiction, William Bernhardt, an author and teacher, emphasizes the importance of planning your book before you write it. He compares a novelist to an architect, and the structure of the story is its framework. His emphasis is classical storytelling. At the end of each chapter he suggests exercises that you can apply as you write your novel. I first read this book several years ago, before I had a novel published.
Outlining sounds tedious, but it can make your novel writing easier in the end. Know your main characters: their background and age, their likes and dislikes, their abilities, what they do, what they look like. Outline your story scenes and events. What is your inciting incident, and what will be the climax? What scenes and events are important to the forward progress of your story? The outline is for you, so it doesn’t have to follow a certain format, and it can change as you write. As in life, planning your book will give you more flexibility. I didn’t enjoy outlining compositions in English class many years ago, but I discovered it helped to give shape to my compositions as I learned to write.
Whether you outline or not, you probably have a plan for your novel before you begin to write. If you are an author, I recommend that you read Story Structure. If you’re like me, you’re still a learner and can benefit from listening to the experts.