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Road Trips
Category: Writing
Tags: plot planning character control

ROAD TRIPS

I am, at present, on a two-week road trip in the US, digging up my ancestors, first in Western New York and now in Massachusetts. The planning phase before departure was long as I tried to decide which towns to head for, where to stay, and exactly what to do when we arrived. Fortunately, nowadays you can do a good deal of the research online and have the aid of GPS navigation when you actually start out on the road.

It many ways, the planning is not unlike writing fiction, and for that matter, non-fiction as well. You really should have an idea of where your piece is going and how you intend to arrive there. Writers usually have their own modus operandi as to how much outlining or planning they do before setting out on their journey. Some plan in detail, others prefer winging it. Here, too, online research can take you places you would otherwise never access.

I recently read one bit of ďadviceĒ from a writing guru who maintained that knowing the ending of your story destroyed your creativity, and he advised setting out more or less with blind faith that your characters would lead you to their destination.

Although I am not an outliner, thatís a bit too risky for me. On the road trip I am on, we have been flexible; we have taken detours to visit sites not in the original planning, and left out some places that were initially on the itinerary. But I always knew where we would end up at the end of the day. Otherwise we would be in danger of going around in circles and never completing the journey, not to mention not having a bed to lay our heads as night fell.

It is very true that characters do often have minds of their own and hijack a writer to places she/he didnít intend to go. That can be great fun and stimulate irresistible new thoughts and plot threads that enrich a story. A writer should give characters a chance to take her down those unexplored paths. And if a new final destination presents itself, a writer should at least check it out. It may be a better ending than the planned one.

How do you see the question of planning your stories? Do you control your characters or give them free rein?

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