There is often discussion in forums I’ve visited about planning a story. One argument: don’t do it. It’s a good point; why plan when you could be writing? Well, in this post I’ll be giving you reasons for and against planning. The alternative, and this is a technical term, is winging it.

Firstly, there are many ways to plan. That’s important to recognise. During NaNoWriMo 2008, I was a huge fan of planning. My novel idea was complex to write, but easy to follow when reading. I know, because I had people read it. In short, the entire novel took place in 24 hours, and so I needed to plan every last detail. No minute could go astray, no second could be wasted. I needed a way of tracking the character’s movements to prevent something useless happening, or, the alternative, too much happening. That’s always possible – don’t forget that. So, what did I do to plan this book that needed planning? I took notes. As the novel was complicated from the writing side of it, I took down notes on every last chapter.

That same method is also important when another situation arises, when winging it just won’t do. This situation is called school. Put simply, school drains away most young writers’ time. Nine to four plus homework and study and friends and sport etc – they all take away writing time. When the writer finally sits down to get some work done, they might not know where to start. I know I didn’t, in a separate novel that took much longer than a month to write. I needed chapter plans, character notes, everything like that, just to stop myself getting lost. The story was planned in my head before it was on paper, obviously, and the plan went on further than the written part, but I needed what was written down for that particular novel.

Which brings me on to my next point – if you wing it, you may insert something into the plot at one stage, and completely forget about it because you’ve no notes. This can also happen if you plan, mind you, so you need to be careful. This is the part of planning you don’t always have to write down, once you don’t forget about that one little item, conversation or character at some point in the rest of the story. That creates a plot hole. If the thing that might become a plot hole is planned, however, you might just remember not to leave it behind at chapter one and remember twenty chapters later about it when it’s too late. This also happened to me… except it was forty chapters and the book was almost over.

The other methods of planning involve diagrams, or simply short notes of things you want to happen, but not in any strenuous detail that might otherwise distract you. Depending on how you’re writing the story, such as how often and for how long, this might be the best option for people who like to have some sort of plan in place. I’ve recently taken notes on my current WIP in this way, due to the fact that I’m now in college. I may not always have time to write like I did, and so I need something to at least remind me of where I’m going.

That particular novel, however, is being written in the wing it style. Up until a few days ago, I had an empty notebook and only a plan in my head. And a large enough word count considering I had only started two weeks beforehand. That’s the advantage of winging it, you see. You could find the words coming easier than usual, or you could be trapped in some amazing writing momentum that’s fuelled by inspiration and cannot be interrupted for any reason whatsoever. Nothing as dull as thirty pages of plot-planning should disrupt that writing flow.

So, which way is best? Winging it has a clear advantage in that you can write to your heart’s content, full speed ahead, creative engines flaring, while planning makes sure you don’t crash into that iceberg and create a major plot hole. My advice, and the way I’ll be finishing my novel (I hope) is to wing it, but keep notes on ideas you get if you know you’ll have to slow down the writing process at some stage in the near future. Better to plan than to forget every last detail of that precious story of yours!