Starting to write a novel without some kind of outline can be a mistake.

I’ll be honest – I’m not naturally a planner. I love to leap right into things and make a start!

However, I have learned from experience that taking the time to write a story plan gives me a huge advantage when it comes to actually writing the novel.

Many years ago I started writing a sequel to my first novel, London’s Gone, but I began writing with nothing but some good ideas. Result? I lost the plot, started again, then lost the plot again. And that book is still sitting in a Word document, unfinished. (One day I’ll get it out, dust it off, make a plan, and start again… please remind me!)

Making things up as you go along sounds like it’s freeing; being able to take the characters wherever they want to go is part of the creative process, surely?… well, actually they’re more likely to get lost along the way. It would be like a worship leader turning up to church on Sunday without a song list!

Here are some of the reasons I now always begin a new story with a plan, and suggest you do, too: (if you have any further thoughts, please add them in the comments!):

  1. Pace. If you know exactly where you’re going, you won’t be wandering around with unnecessary scenes which detract from the plot and slow it down.
  2. Tension. If you have carefully plotted your conflicts, you will build tension. So your reader will need to read on, to see what happens next!
  3. The beginning. Have you heard the expression “begin with the end in mind”? If you know what’s going to be happening at the end of your story, you will know what you need at the beginning.
  4. The end. So you need to plan the end!
  5. Rounded characters. Knowing your characters well in advance of writing will help them seem real to you – and thus you can make them real for your readers.
  6. Theme. If you have a story plan, you can keep your theme running like a golden thread all the way through. As we are writing for a reason, our theme is important, whether it’s God’s love, the power of prayer, the importance of community, justice and forgiveness…
  7. Confidence. Having a complete story plan helps avoid overwhelm when you sit down to write. And that’s so important to getting your story not just started, but finished!

I never write, now, without having an outline. Sometimes I change things – add a spy, a twist, a scene. But the bones are there. And I suggest you do the same thing.

In the Write for a Reason Academy we work, step-by-step, week by week, on a story plan. It’s a new element of the course I introduced last year, as I realised that students were finishing the course not always sure of the next step. Now, at the end of the ten weeks, not only will you have built on your writing skills, but you will have a complete story plan ready to write. Or if you don’t like the one you’ve been working on, you can dump it and start again – but you’ll know what to do. You’ll know what you need to include, what you need to leave out, and you will know exactly where you’re going with it.

Let me know what you think! We have a Facebook group for anyone determined to get their story finished. Let me know if you’d like to join and I’ll let you in – we will be discussing this topic over there! 🙂

Janet Wilson, founder of Dernier Publishing

Every blessing to you all,


P.S. If you’re not interested in joining the Write for a Reason Academy, skip this. If you think you might be interested, here’s a little bit of information:

The next course will begin on Monday 6th July. Registration is open now. It’s a ten week online course you can access from anywhere in the world. If you are new to writing Christian fiction for children, I designed this course for you, so you can become the novelist you dream of being and inspire children with your stories. If you know you have been given a gift, but understand you need to put that gift to work, this is for you.

Because of the difficulties we are currently facing with the global pandemic, I have made the course half price. This will probably be the last time I will do that, as lockdown begins to ease.

For further information, please click here, or don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any particular questions. 🙂

Seven Reasons You Need a Plan
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