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Does Your Story Planning Stink?


Don’t write yourself into a corner—planning can save your book!

All authors know the pain… writing a brilliant story, then realizing that you’ve made a terrible mistake; the whole plot falls apart if one person were to ask one simple, logical question.

Or the whole plot is DOA because it breaks simple rules of science, logic, or a character does something so outrageous readers roll their eyes.

How do you plan for moments that ruin a whole story?

Well, planning is a great first step! From outlines to overviews to plot synopsis, simply planning your novel in the most basic manner can help you avoid costly edits, extensive rewrites, or worse, a loss of reader trust and faith.

In this article, Charlii tackles the important topic of planning, and how planning can save your novel, save you time, and even save you heartache. Writing a book is hard—writing a book that you have to shelve because you didn’t see a fatal flaw coming can destroy your motivation and drive to continue.

Don’t get blindsided by a lack of planning. Make sure your novel is powerful, hits all the right readers expectations, fits within the genre, manages readers expectations, and resonates with readers. The very first step is learning why planning is important and how you can make your novel live up to its true potential.

Why better planning can make all the difference for fiction authors


This word means many things to many different authors. However, it’s an important part of the process that shouldn’t be overlooked if you want to create quality books faster, with less effort, and with better twists and turns.

For you, planning might look like a collection of scribbled-on sticky notes, a notebook filled with ideas, a whiteboard covered in comments only you can decipher, or even more intricate plots and outlines with the aid of writing tools.

Whatever planning looks like for you, we’re going to discuss how planning can elevate your novel, your writing skill, and even make you write faster.

I’d rather spend time writing than planning.

I know that the biggest time sink in writing is the actual writing part. Putting 30, 60, 90k words on paper can take months or years for some authors. Actually putting in time to type isn’t a process most of us can speed up. Obviously, practice makes typing faster, but most writers are constrained by their ability to keep ideas flowing from brain to fingertips, and that process, ideas to text, can slow down when no plan has been made.

So many authors consider themselves ‘pantsers’ a cute term for someone who flies by the seat of their pants. In this context, it refers to authors who don’t outline and simply start with a basic idea. A common explanation would be driving through fog on a road you don’t know; you can only see what’s right in front of you, but you can make the whole drive that way.

However, this is one of the least efficient methods according to interviews I’ve conducted with authors and the research I’ve done.  

But planning will make my story boring… or I’ll get bored writing it!

The trick to not getting bored writing an outlined idea is to leave yourself wiggle room. You don’t have to outline and plan every single detail; a brief overview of what needs to happen (even if you go different directions to reach the same destination) can make all the difference for authors worried about getting bored with a planned-out novel.

So if you’re worried that an outline will cramp your style, then try starting with a light outline; just a sentence or two per chapter so you know what needs to happen in that chapter to progress your story. Once you get into the swing of this new skill you’re developing—because yes, outlining is a skill, and so is writing from one—you’ll be pleased how much quicker you’ll be able to write your story with a plan in place.

Doesn’t planning make my story less organic, more formulaic, and less authentic?

Sure, but I challenge you to explain why these concepts are bad ideas.

An organic story simply means it flows, logically and realistically, right? Why would a plan change that?

If a story follows a formula, is it inherently bad? Because I can guarantee all your favorite authors use some formula. It might be their own specific tried-and-true formula, but it’s a formula all the same. That’s how their stories all have a familiar feel to them. It’s not because their stories are all the same, it’s because they have a style of writing, a pacing, etc. that you recognize. That’s their formula.

As for concerns over your story being authentic; I think authenticity has more to do with you, dear author, than the method with which you plan your novels. By putting your heart, soul, and perspective into your stories, you’re making them authentic; no plan, outline, or formula can take that from you.

I encourage you to stay true to your ideas, your direction, and your style and voice, but planning doesn’t steal that from you, it simply requires you to adjust your current methods. You make your story great, not your planning! So take a deep breath and let’s keep going.

Other ways planning helps make your novel better

Tropes, reader expectations, and staying on-genre are all important tools for any author’s toolbox. Knowing what your readers expect is as important as knowing what deal breakers will make them put your book down and never touch your writing again.

Planning out the tropes you want in advance will make marketing much, much easier. Being able to tell people that your book is a sweet cowboy enemies to lovers western romance means you know who your audience is; your audience are people who read those books.

Now, try figuring out your audience if you write fantasy with no magic set in the real world with some sci-fi elements, no villain, and a dragon who speaks English and kills people for fun who also happens to be the main character’s brother, but they have no idea they’re related. If you’re scratching your head about who’d want to read that, then you understand the point of this exercise.

For further homework—yes, I’m giving you homework—look at your favorite books. What makes you quit reading your favorite genre? What do you hate to see? What do you love? Knowing how to break books down into genre, tropes, and knowing what readers (like yourself) expect in the type of books they love makes marketing so much simpler.

Now, when you’re in the planning phase, pick the tropes you want. Make notes of what will happen. Utilize your planning phase to look toward the next important part of being an author; selling books. Like any other business, you need to understand your market and demographic or you doom yourself to failure before you start.

Again, you don’t have to plan everything. Sometimes the best ideas come when you’ve already planned your novel. Be flexible and willing to make changes that make your story stronger (as long as you love them, too) because you have the power to change anything, anytime.

But I want to write what I love!

You can do that! But I doubt you think that writing what you love requires you to not plan, not use tropes, or deny reader expectations. Further, you need to ask yourself if you can write what you love and find readers who love what you write. Unless your goal isn’t to sell books, but simply to create your own art just for you. In that case, you do you and more power to you!

However, if your goal is to make money with your work, then you need to consider this a business—because it is, and it’s not an easy one!—and any business can fail without the proper research and consideration.

I’m not trying to stop you from doing things your own way, quite the opposite, actually. I think every author should do what works for them, but arming yourself with knowledge increases your odds of success.

A lot of authors get into writing because it seems like a simple, low-cost start up that will make them millionaires. The truth is, again, like any other business, you need to know your market, your buyers, how to market your book, and you need to create a product with value.

Planning your novel offers an opportunity to make sure that your story is interesting, exciting, full of twists and turns, fits into a niche, and makes readers keep coming back for your books, every step of the way.

Write what you love, please, because readers can sense when an author isn’t feeling their writing, and it creates a disingenuous feel to the work that can turn readers off. Respect your craft, your wants and needs, and what you want to accomplish with your book.

But I dislike planning.

Trust me, you are not alone. Many authors claim that the outlining process is the hardest part of writing a book.

But like writing, like skills, like anything else in life, the more practice you get, the easier, faster, and better at that task you will become. So practice! Put yourself out there. Try several different outline methods. Try several methods for the same book idea, even. Then give each one a fair shake and see how it works out.

You never know if you don’t try. You might even find a method that works better for you than your current go-to. As an author, as a creator, you ultimately must decide the way that works best for you. Planning and outlining are more like sketching a scene before putting paint to canvas. Knowing the bones of your story allows you to flesh it out step by step until it’s exactly what you want it to be.

And if you hate planning, try to remember that planning is very likely going to make other facets of writing easier for you, whether that means simpler marketing, fewer plot issues, faster writing, or simply reduced stress because you know what has to happen next and how to get there.

Sure, some authors are willing to drive roads they’ve never been on in the dark with headlights on. But I think most people prefer maps, GPS, and knowing what lies ahead on the next leg of their journey.

Plot Planning Tool


Analyze your story elements with this “at-a-glance” format. Quickly see where timelines intersect and ensure there are no gaps in your characters’ journeys or in your order of events.

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Plot Planning Tool

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