Getting Started Writing A Novel - The Planners and the Wingers

Broadly speaking there are two ways to write a novel – by planning everything out in advance, so you know exactly what’s going to happen before you start writing any actual prose, and just putting pen to paper and thrashing out a first draft without knowing what’s going to happen or how it’s going to end.

Of course, there are many inbetweeners, such as having a very rough outline or knowing how it’s going to end but nothing else, but essentially you have Planners and Wingers.

Some people already know if they lean towards the Planning or Winging camp, for example, the idea of putting pen to paper without having a clear sense of direction and purpose fills me with horror, as I know I’ll end up writing chapter after chapter of waffelly drivel before painting myself into a corner.

However, I know there are others who are equally perturbed at the idea of planning everything in detail as they feel it destroys their freedom and creativity and takes the adventure out of discovering the story as they go along.

Both ways are equally valid if you can make them work, and if you’re not sure which is for you, then experiment until you find something comfortable.

Advice for Planners

My preferred technique for planning a novel is to start with a kernel of an idea and work outwards, putting in more and more detail at each stage. The first thing to start with is a ‘premise’ which is a single line which describes the core of the story. 

This can be anything you like, but it’s useful if it can include the elements of character, obstacle, situation and possible disaster. So, for example: Can Caleb the dog get past spies, the elements and buried mines to get the warning message to the troops on the frontline before the enemies destroy them?

Once you’ve got those elements in place, you can expand it into a few major plot points, that include setting the scene, the call to action, various obstacles (of increasing intensity) and a final climax.

After that you simply keep expanding each sentence into a paragraph until you have a fairly detailed plot. That’s the outline you can use to guide your scene writing.

Advice for Wingers

As a Planner, I should say that I’m not the best person to be offering advice to Wingers, but I’m going to offer some tips that I’ve heard for beating writers block, that will hopefully help get the words flowing.

The main thing to do is anything to get writing. That could be writing the first thing that comes into your head, no matter how gibberish, even just writing the same word over and over again until boredom drives you to start writing something more interesting.

If you really can’t get started, then do something physical, whether it’s going to the gym or taking a walk. Getting the blood moving around will stimulate your brain and having a different environment can help inspire ideas.

Failing that, you can find a list of ways to beat writer's block here.

So, are you a planner or a winger? Do you agree with our outrageous generalisations?