How to Effectively and Wisely Plan Your Writing?

Do you know what makes a great piece of writing? Good planning. Plan how you want to begin, how you want to end and what you want to write in between. When you do that, you will find that the words come to you naturally and without difficulty. Just like when you plan your speech to your parents when you want something! After all, P (planning) does come before W (writing) in the alphabet, doesn’t it?

Good organisation of points is as important as the points themselves. A plan helps you see the whole picture. It keeps you focussed so that you don’t digress. It keeps the end game in mind.  

Now, what if you have only five minutes to plan your piece? You need to either make a compelling plot, create a vivid picture or persuade people to change their views. How would you make the most of these precious moments so that you can give the best of your abilities and score the best marks of your life? 

Precise and purposeful planning:

Read the given prompt (or question). Then read it again. Then once again, read the prompt. The secret lies there. The more you read it, the more details of the piece emerge. Now, let’s plan.

1. Identify the genre: 

The foremost thing is to obviously identify the genre the question demands. Each genre is different from the other, and it is key that we identify it (otherwise, there is a danger of losing focus). One cannot be confused with the other. Don’t confuse a story with a recount or a diary entry. A story must include a conflict, a climax and a resolution. A story is built up and then brought down to a resolution, whereas a diary concentrates on the noteworthy incidents of the day which you want to remember for later. On the other hand, a recount will take you back to the past where you experienced something memorable. Don’t forget, at the end of a recount, to come back to the present. 

So, the first step when you plan is to list down all the essential parameters of a given genre which you must include in your writing. As you write (or at the end, when you proofread), you can check these parameters against your writing. This way you can also check if you have written enough for each parameter.

2. Keep it realistic and feasible: 

Do you sometimes feel that you are unable to execute a brilliant idea for your writing? You have all the right tools and ingredients; however, somewhere in the middle of writing, you find yourself lost. And then, precious minutes trickle by as you struggle to bring closure to your writing. The end result: a scattered piece of writing with gaping loopholes. 

Could this ‘brilliant idea’ be perhaps over-ambitious to begin with? Does your writing traverse different realms and dimensions? Are there too many characters for the poor reader to remember? Is there one subplot after another? 

It is advisable to set realistic goals. A story must have an interesting conflict, but a grandiose plot can be too convoluted to smoothly execute within the given time limit. So, keep it simple, exciting and doable. Don’t have too many characters or subplots. Close all loopholes and provide a believable resolution. Keep an eye on the time or word limit. Get to the conflict quickly. Have about three strong points to make an argument. Keep it precise as well a coherent whole.

3. Work on the structure:

Organisation is very important. Ideas should flow seamlessly and logically. Plan what points of an argument or stages of a story go in each paragraph. How do you begin? How do you end? Introduction and conclusion are often considered the most crucial parts of any writing—the former leaves a first memorable impression on the reader, and the latter stamps an enduring mark on the reader’s mind. These two must be decided right at the start, during the planning phase, so that you don’t waste any time later grappling with them. 

Decide if you want to begin or end your essay with your strongest point. For a story, every new scene or development must be written separately. All events relayed in a story must lead to the end. Cut out all superfluous parts. Similarly, in a descriptive essay, focus on one aspect of the subject in one paragraph. The concluding paragraph of a description or essay must not feel like you have another point to make. 

While you outline the skeleton of your writing, throw in some appropriate connecting phrases or transitioning words to make it into one whole unit. Again, this will save you loads of time when you actually write your final piece. 

4. List a few handy tools: 

A writing without fancy techniques is bland and unimpressive. From an examination point of view, we need to flaunt all our (most of them, at least) writing skills.  So, when you plan, remember to write down lots of striking vocabulary and literary techniques that are relevant to the context. Why not remind yourself to use advanced punctuation like semicolons, colons and parenthesis for dramatic effect? Have you got an advanced starter for every other sentence? If yes, write it down under ‘plan.’ 

Now, let’s see an example of how one can achieve the targeted purpose listed above.

Story with a given opening: The train stopped suddenly stopped in the tunnel.

Read the words in the prompt above. 

What is the genre? A story. Now look closer at the given prompt. What kind of story do you think will come out of this? Comedy? Horror? Mystery? Adventure? More likely, the last three, isn’t it? What elements should a story genre have?

-      SETTING: Where? When? Main characters?

-      CONFLICT: Most important. Why did it stop? Obstacle? Engine problem? Hijack? 

-      CLIMAX or the high point: Will the main character succeed in making the train run again? Is the suspense going to be solved?

-      RESOLUTION: All’s well at the end. Or is it? Choose. But the ending must relate to the conflict. 

Keeping the plot realistic and compact: This part is very important. Let’s not have an over-ambitious plan where we lose track of the time and the plot. Use one main plot running through the story, without any digressions. Incorporate only one conflict. We’re on the clock. 

Do trains usually stop in tunnels? No! Something is amiss. What is it? Get to the problem immediately. What is the main emotion running through all? Fear, confusion, perplexity. Keep these in mind for every dialogue and every description using figurative language. 

Have a realistic and believable conclusion. Avoid cliff hangers. Why? Because there is no Chapter 2!

Structure of the story: Here, the beginning is given. Think of a memorable ending. Are the good guys victorious? Does the train begin moving again? Or does the story end on a tragic or any other negative note?

Build the tension in the beginning of the story. This is called the rising action. Add a couple of events here. Maybe the main character is discovering clues or putting together a plan to defeat the villains or tackle the problem. Does he/she need help from the fellow passengers? Are there any makeshift weapons? These actions must lead to the climax where the success of their endeavour hangs in the balance. 

Once you have tackled the climax, add some falling actions. These tie together the open ends and answer all the questions. What had happened? Who was responsible? Everything must lead to the resolution for a closing.

Handy tools: What are the extra bits and pieces that you add to keep the narrative alive? Mix long and short sentences to build suspense or describe action. Use sensory descriptions: shrill or loud engine sounds, screams, chills, sweating, blood, pain, etc.

And remember, as mentioned before, figurative language should reflect the mood of the story. Stay away from the temptation of adding something just because it sounds nice. (We have all tried that! Doesn’t work.)

Conclude on a high. The best symphonies end on the highest note. The inconsequential ones peter away when no one is listening.

Now, do you feel like you can plan your writing better? Write that essay or story and score great marks!