Why? Because when we build a story, we want to make sure the foundation is strong. Pre-planning sets up that foundation. It's prep-work. Without a strong foundation (premise & structure), even the best technical writing won't save a story. First, I want to show you a video that helped me discover this (I learned about it in my Commercial Fiction class), then I'll give you a bit more of my opinion on the matter. This video was mind-blowing for me! If you are unsure about your position as a planner or pantser, I hope you'll stick around and watch! It is a portion of an interview with John Truby, a terrific story doctor. He begins by discussing some misconceptions about prewriting, then goes into why many writers fail at the beginning of the writing process.
Whichever type of writer we happen to be, I think a little pre-planning can help us.
We could spend weeks on all the good stuff Truby talks about here, but let's tackle the idea of prep-work and planning from the beginning.
Obviously, Truby recommends the "planner" method rather than the "pantser" method; he does not acknowledge that some writers plan their story while writing a first draft. If you use this latter method, you are using the "pantser" method. Writing a first draft this way is crazy and creative. Anything can happen. However, after writing that first draft, a pantser almost always needs to throw it out and start anew with the knowledge they've gained from that last attempt. Truby may be assuming that most writers would be discouraged about having to throw out all their work, or he may think the pantser method is worthless. In the case of the latter, he's wrong. After all, it is the method Ray Bradbury used. Worked for him, right? "Pantsing" is a viable method, as long as the writer knows that he'll write a lot of words he won't use.
Some people like writing this way; not me. I don't like the pantser method because it frustrates me to throw out those masses of words. (Of course, even after planning there will be plenty of rewriting. That's different though--there won't be as many ginormous structural issues if I plan correctly.) I have tested out the "pantser" method for myself. Originally, I wrote my current work-in-progress about a prison break...then I discovered that not all my characters would condone such a thing. I ran right through the first draft (during NaNoWriMo) without realizing this. After spending six months trying to figure out what went wrong, I discovered the flaw in my premise and a whole vein of necessary research I had overlooked. I've been reworking my ideas ever since. I have not begun writing my next draft yet because I just finished researching and am coming to the end of the planning phase. I began my first draft before I was ready because I was in too much of a hurry. I should have taken time to let my ideas "ripen," as Orson Scott Card, the famous Fantasy author, recommends (he is a pre-planner, like me).You'll have to test out each method and find out which kind of writer you are.
Orson Scott Card wrote that at some point, there will be planning stage. It may be in one form or another, before or after your first draft, with or without outlining, but it will come. Whether you are a planner or pantser, most of your ideas and work will change before you discover your true story.
Even so, every writer will have a different writing process--two planners may plan differently--so don't be discouraged if you find you have to throw out lots of work before discovering a process that works for you. It's a part of learning! If you like this video of John Truby, I suggest you read this book by him called The Anatomy of Story. You can order it from the local library, if you live around Lakeport, CA. (If not, try your own library!)
Now, you may be wondering how to begin this so-called preplanning. What does it entail? Remember when John Truby talks about developing a "Premise" or "Logline" in the video? The premise is the beginning. This is kind of a magical concept for me, because I didn't understand it for a while. I'll talk about it in a future post. Next week, we can journey through this drippy, murky cave together. Headlamps, everyone! We're a-goin' spelunkin'! *
If you have any comments about all this, I'd love to hear them. Have you tried different orders of story process? Tried some preplanning before? What methods, what tools? Or have you gone on that mad dash called NaNoWriMo?
*Here is the promised post on Premise.
Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1990. Print.
Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story: 22 steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. New York, NY: Faber and Faber, Inc. 2007. Print.