To plot or not to plot

» Posted on Mar 21, 2006 in Blog | 4 comments

I hope Shakespeare will forgive me paraphrasing his, “To be or not to be.” But this is a question writers ask each other all the time. Do you outline your story plot out ahead of time or do you just start writing and see where the story takes you? People starting out struggle with this. What works best?

Well, what works best is what works for you. I think you have to experiment to see what you feel most comfortable with. I personally have a story direction, but I don’t like to outline my plot in detail. It takes the fun out of writing for me. I love the little surprises my characters give me when I tell their story. Now with that said in my romantic suspense stories I do plot more ahead of time than in my contemporary romances.

But I know a lot of writers who are wonderful and must have a detailed outline before they even start chapter one. That is what works for them. Not for me. I like to have a good feel for my main characters–their conflicts, motivations and goals. I know the framework of the story, then I just plunge in and write. I often am writing one chapter and don’t know what the next one will be. But by the end of the chapter I’m writing I usually know where I’m going after that. That’s what I love about writing. The discovery.

In my most recent romantic suspense I’ve writing (Vanished, Love Inspired Suspense, May 2007), it’s the little twists and clues in my story that get a grin out of me. Sometimes I’ll go to bed with a problem and wake up the next morning with an answer. It’s amazing and thrilling when that happens. It’s as if my mind works on a solution while I’m sleeping. Now if only little elves would come in the middle of the night and clean my house, I would be a happy camper.

So my answer to plot or not to plot is that it’s up to each individual writer what works for her. How do you plot?


  1. I don’t plot. I know my characters and their conflicts. Beyond that, the events that take place happen as I write. The first book I wrote, I just wrote. No plotting, nothing. My second one is not finished, I think because I sat down and decided what was going to happen in it. That just doesn’t work for me. I just like to go with the flow and see where my characters take me.

  2. I don’t really plot. I know where I’m starting and I have a pretty good idea of where it will go and where it will end, but for the most part I just sit down with an idea and start writing.

    In one story, the husband and wife were working through issues and trying to put their marriage back together after the husband had an affair. About half-way through the H/h were returning from a Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house when the husband literally tripped over his former mistress on his front porch. I thought she was out of the story and then she popped up again – pregnant.

    I am definitely a seat-of-the-pants writer. If I plan and plot out the entire story, then I don’t want to write it anymore.

  3. I tried plotting… And I ended up writing a completely different book because my characters ended up changing things on me all the time. So I decided not to waste my time anymore.

    But I have a suspense in my mind, that I think will require a little more plotting. But I still don’t think it’ll be the full outline like some people do.

    Have to admire people who can outline though. They must be very focused. I just can’t prevent my mind from wandering…

  4. I’m not a writer but since I can’t stick to schedules, I doubt I could stick to a plot outline if I were one.

    I know one writer who writes connected books and she has the whole story line mapped out and basically in her head almost before she starts writing the first book. Sometimes her characters don’t quite do what she intended them to do, so she writes some things a little differently. The characters, their personality and so on are almost laid in stone at the very beginning. I could never, ever be that organized.

    Wish I could though, even if it is only for my private life.

    I would imagine that suspense needs more plotting than other books do and mysteries even more.

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