Organizing Your Novel

resume-writer-editAre you an architect or a gardener?

I’ve had several conversations with authors regarding how they organize their writing process. It’s interesting to discover that no two writers are alike regarding how they navigate the various stages of planning, writing, re-writing, and editing. The spectrum is broad, and ranges from those who are structured, i.e., outlines, full character descriptions, etc., to those like myself who kind of fly by the seat of their pants.

That’s not to say I have no structure. Indeed, I have a good idea about who my main character(s) is/are, and what the story is about, and if one is needed, a sub plot is created. But one thing I never completely determine ahead of time is the ending. As I write the novel, different endings pop into my head. I quickly jot them down and by the time the manuscript is ready for the ending I usually have a couple to choose from.

I think not being tethered to an ending is preferable to needing to write to a pre-determined ending. In my case, I’m able to take the story down different avenues, and even include characters I may not have initially thought about. The only problem occurs when an author has more than one ending that would fit perfectly. Then how does one choose between the two?

Structure is good, though sometimes it can restrain creativity. I rather like being a free-spirited author, one who prefers non-traditional methods. I think author George R.R. Martin said it best. “I think there are two types of writers, the architects, and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”


Published by John M. Wills

Award-winning author and freelance writer. Published ten books in addition to more thant 200 articles, short stories, and poetry. Writing professionally since retiring from the FBI in 2004.

2 thoughts on “Organizing Your Novel

  1. I write much like you–I have the basic idea, the characters because I write series, only needing to create news ones for the plot, but as I write new ideas pop into my head, and I’m always surprised by the ending.

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