Friday, July 4, 2014

Why I Don't Plot My Novels

Q: "How can you write without knowing what will happen?"
A: I have a broad plan...sorta.

Everyone approaches writing stories differently. I happen to be someone who can come up with stories better on-the-spot, rather than saying, "Okay, first this, then this, then this..." etc, etc. When I sat down to write Embassy, I already knew the ending. I eventually scrapped that ending and wrote a new one because the overall story changed, but the point is, I had an ending I was working toward.


The first draft was the hardest part because even though I had an end, I still needed to get there. So what did I do? I didn't go to the drawing board and line up events. I didn’t decide what emotions and lessons should pop up where, or what the character arcs would do to the story. No, I took my laptop and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and let the story evolve.

Basically, Embassy is a product of whims.


From where I stand, plotting looks like a cage. I like being free. I don't want to see every mile marker and have foresight of detail. I want to go for a stroll and have a bird poop on my head. I want to trip on a rock, bang my head on a branch, and get my shoe lost in the mud.

My point is, I want the story to surprise me as I write it. Okay, I understand plotting doesn’t show you every…little…detail, but it still shows a lot. You usually know what situations your characters will be in before they get into them. I like to just have things happen.

Quoth the Joker: 'Do I look like a guy with a plan?'


Remember how I said I knew the beginning and the end of Embassy, and that I just needed to fill in the middle? Well, guess what? I got through the first draft. I got through the second draft. I got through the third draft.

Then something happened as I started working on the fourth draft. THE ENDING CHANGED. And not only the ending, but some characters and even the setting. Four drafts in and the story started rewriting itself. By the fifth draft, Embassy was a totally different book from the one I had written only five months earlier.

But who would have known that all these changes were for the better? Now the ending resonates with the beginning of the book. The settings feel more realistic. The characters are real people. The more I revised Embassy, the more I discovered the story I wanted to tell.


Similar to writing on the spot, I can edit on the spot. I don't have pages of notes to look through, or guides to follow. I treat everything independently, then connect them. Maybe that's why I scrapped Part 2 and completely rewrote it. It just didn't fit with the new Part 1 anymore. And don’t even get me started on how much I shredded Part 3.

Sure, outlining stories doesn't set it in concrete. However, many people are afraid to deviate from their original plots, even if the original plot isn’t the strongest plot the story could have. Mine certainly wasn't. So think about how you can change your plot to make your story stronger.


The first and second drafts of Embassy were terrible. Heck, even the third draft. At the time, they seemed great. Looking back…noooooope.

Drafts four and five, however, were a different story in every regard. The characters became their own people. The plot flowed to its own current. My characters asked for freedom, and I granted it to them. Of course, I had to tweak things here and there, but for the most part, their identities were their own.

In the end, the characters formed the story. They wanted something different than I originally did. The ending changed because they showed me what would be effective. Their lives influence the flow and depth of the novel. The characters are in control. (Embassy is a heavily character-driven novel.) This doesn't mean bad things won't happen to them, it means their lives and emotions drive the story forward.

I'm 20,000 words into Embassy's sequel!
I admit: I plotted a bit of the book, but only so I know what dots I needed to connect.
I throw the rest of the story on the page as it comes to me.

What are your thoughts on outlining? Pantser or Plotter?


  1. I'm a plotter, but I only plot a couple of scenes in advance to leave myself room for pantsing.

    I LOVED your point about having an end goal in mind. I think that's the main reason so many stories fail. You get an idea about a single character or an event and think it's interesting, so you start to write, but you have no idea where it's going so you simply get lost.

    1. Yeah, the end goal is probably the most important part, honestly. You know what the final result will be, so all you have to do is make things shift to eventually lead into that ending.

      That being said, the ending is in NO way solidified if you don't want it to be. I'd even say having an ending just helps with the first draft, and once it's finished, you can go crazy with whatever you want to change.

  2. This is exactly how I feel about writing! I'm a total pantser, I know the beginning and the end, but for the rest of it, I'm just rolling with the muse. When I write sequels, I often have a slew of notes, things I know I need to tie up and stuff, but I try to keep pantsing for the most part.

    Also, I nominated you for the Liebster Award! You can find the deets on my blog:

    Alexa Skrywer

  3. Many of these reasons are why I'm not a complete plotter. I'm a mix between plotter and pantser. I like getting a basic idea on how the story is going to go, but my characters want to go wild while still staying with the story I'm totally cool with it. I had it happen with a draft and it was better than what I had in mind. XD

    Stori Tori's Blog