During my time where I have become more engaged with the writing community, time and again I see someone say, “But I haven’t planned the whole story yet!” as a reason for not yet putting words to paper (or keyboard).
There are people who have their entire story, from beginning to end, in their head before they start. I’m not one of them, but they exist. I don’t know if those who do this are the common case or if they are the exception.
In the end, it doesn’t matter, just so long as you are making progress.
My own writing style starts with a loose idea as to what I want the story to be about. I have a protagonist and often the antagonist roughed out in my head. I know the context and the environment, but beyond that, I frequently have nothing more.
“Oh no!” I hear you cry. “How can you write a story when you don’t even know what the story is?” That is kind of a good question.
I let the story fall out from the above: setting, hook, protagonist, and antagonist. How they all fit together, I don’t necessarily know at the start. When I have a scene in my head, I write it down. I know more or less where it fits into the story, but that may change over time. That’s the power of a word processor. We don’t have to know exactly how everything will fit together at the beginning.
From draft to draft, I may find that my protagonist isn’t necessarily who I thought they would be at the start. A lesser character may become a major character. The antagonist might end up being someone entirely different. The story tells me who and what goes where. Sometimes, I don’t even know what the climax is going to be until all the elements start to come together.
I find that I don’t know my characters until I start writing them. There are some basic details that are there at the beginning, but as I put them into the story, I learn more about how I think they will respond and act.
This probably sounds incredibly haphazard, and I’m the first to admit that this is probably the case. However, as writers, we have to understand that we can’t write our book in one draft. Or even two. It takes as many drafts as is necessary for the tangled knots of the story to fall into place.
The point is, if we don’t start writing, then we don’t give ourselves a chance to get to know who it is we are writing about or what’s going to happen to them. It’s like meeting a person for the first time. You know what you think they’ll be like, but over time, you will find things that you didn’t know before.
However, unless we start writing, we never know who it is that we are going to meet as we share their journey.