Ed Gorman, one of the wisest people in the world of crime fiction (read his superb blog and you’ll see why I say that), described it in a recent comment as a ‘timeless question’. Is it a good idea to plan, or outline, one’s crime novel in detail before starting to write it? Or should one just start with a gripping idea, and see where it leads?
Rob Kitchin (who also has a very interesting blog) commented that he is not a planner, and that he takes a different approach with his fiction compared to his academic writing. Having written eight non-fiction books myself, I can empathise with that. When writing a non-fiction book, it’s (usually) imperative to know where you are going. And publishers tend to want to know too, before they commit to commissioning you.
I participated in a panel some time back where a gifted author proclaimed that he didn’t plan at all. A few days later, I had a chat with him and his wife at another function – and his wife reckoned he did plan in quite a lot of detail! So you never know.
The extent to which I plan does vary from book to book. So does the extent to which I stick to my original plan once I’ve started writing. Take My Breath Away was 150,000 words in its first incarnation, but the published version was 85,000 words long. I certainly didn’t plan that.
The most interesting exercise I had in dealing with unplanned fiction was when I completed The Lazarus Widow by the late Bill Knox. Bill didn’t plan at all. But it did leave everyone in a quandary when he died tragically and unexpectedly in the middle of writing the book. Though, I hasten to add, that sad story isn’t in itself a reason to start planning if it is not the writing method that works for you. The answer to the timeless question is, I think, that there is no right answer – it really is a question of what suits the individual.