Pros and Cons of Pre-Plotting a Novel before Writing

Pros and cons of Pre-plotting a novel before writingDo you take as much pleasure in planning your vacation as you do enjoying yourself once you’re actually away? Or, are you apt to jump in the car and head out with only a vague sense of where you’re going? Rather than bothering with the details of how you’ll get there or when you’ll arrive, you simply go? Perhaps you’re a bit of both — you enjoy putting a plan in place with enough flexibility to do as you please once you arrive. The reason I ask is because your answer may shed light on how you feel about advanced planning before writing, undertaking an art project, pursuing your impossible. Whatever your desire, following are pros and cons of devoting time to planning for it first versus just letting it happen. Determine where your comfort zone is about the pros and cons of pre-plotting a novel before writing. Then lean into that which you most resist and give pre-plotting a try.

Pros of Pre-Plotting

Most writers blanch when faced with a blank page. Artists stare a bare canvas. If suddenly a scene flashes across your imagination or a flood of color fills your vision, by all means, write! Paint! Create! At the core of everything we do, action counts. 

Pre-plotting a novel before writingIf, however, you’re thinking of walking away and starting tomorrow instead. Stop! Think of pre-plotting less logically, linearly, and analytically. Rather, approach pre-plotting as an art project. Rather than writing or painting, you’re planning and plotting and imagining and seeing with curious eyes a bold new vision. Pull ideas from thin air, jot them on a post-it note, and before long you have at least a few of the major plot points or actions necessary, giving you an action-plan, loads of scene ideas, and a solid starting off place. No longer faced with creating something out of nothing, you simply follow the steps along the path you’ve created for yourself. 

Another positive about pre-plotting or creating an action plan has to do with using a Plot Planner or the help of the Universal Story. Creating an actual visual map on banner paper across the wall where you write, actively engages you. You’re standing up, brainstorming, exploring, discovering. As you arrange your ideas along the Plot Planner line, the act of moving your body back and forth stimulates your imagination and creativity.


PlotPlannerPre-plotting on a Plot Planner provides you with a model of reality as you write a story with a plot from beginning to end, start a new endeavor, undertake your passion. Stand back and see the plan from beginning to end. Sure, there are lots of gaps and missing parts. You’re also looking at a unified pattern, an organized whole that is much more than the sum of its parts. 

Don’t end up having never started or giving up before you reach your dream or strangled in a tangle of plot threads with no idea of how to get out of the mess. Pre-plotting gives you sense of where you’re headed along with an idea of some of the stumbling blocks you’re likely to encounter along the way. Pre-plotting improves your chances of reaching your goal.

Cons of Pre-Plotting

For many creative people, thinking comes last. Getting lost in the words and the creative process, the flow of ink across the paper, colors in a design, you’re creating as you feel it. The creative impulse flows physically from your body and emotionally from your heart. Fulfilled and euphoric, a spiritual state of being absorbs you. Time shrinks. Sound disappears. Energized and fully immersed, you’re in the flow, in the moment, in the zone. 

Any systematic approach can stifle this sort of creative spontaneity… for years. It’s true. Some truly right-brained-dominate creative types can get stuck when exploring the other side. Pre-plotting and planning is a systematic approach. You’re imagining a beginning, a middle and what constitutes reaching an end. You’re defining goals and steps how to reach them. If your hands are beginning to sweat at the thought of such organization, you may have shifted too far on the left side of your brain. Give yourself plenty of freedom with your creative pursuit. At the same time, spend some portion of your day delving into logic and planning and strategy and a linear progression.  Then quickly, sink back into the creative thrill. 

Integrating a Combination of the Two

Rather than get hung up in either pre-plotting or going about creating something new without a sense of what’s involved, try a combination of the two — free creativity and pre-plotting. In other words, dance back and forth between plotting and writing, between planning and drawing. With a giant Plot Planner on your wall and lots of post-it notes and colored pens, turn pre-plotting into an artistic pursuit. Standing in front of the Plot Planner, you’re moving, flowing back and forth. Sitting in front of your computer, you’re stationary and fixed. 

Write for a specific amount of time. Then stand up and stretch and spend some time brainstorming and anticipating what’s coming next in your story. 

For more on Pre-plotting, here are some Blog Posts on the subject from the Archives

3 Steps How to Pre-Plot 

Pre-Plot the Middle and End of Your Novel

Pre-plotting Made Simple