How do you fight a war? (Wait, don’t answer that. Or rather, I’ll answer it for you.)
You fight a war strategically and tactically.
Strategy = planning, organizing, outlining, envisioning, setting broad goals, marking progress.
Tactics = details in execution.
In order to write well you must do both. You must strategize and engage tactically. You must plan, but you must also pen coherent sentences. You must formulate a plot and characters. But you must also evoke emotion in your dialog, you must describe explicitly, fluidly.
To write well you must wage war against yourself. You are the enemy. You will find excuses to ignore the plan, shortcut the outline, forego the partitioning of plot and story line.
And it is you who will tell and not show. Write flowery poetic prose, or terse, boring narrative. It is you who will fail to imagine your characters ticks and faults, their prior failures, their future aspirations. The fault will be yours when you alliterate, exaggerate, bloviate, proselytize. And it will be you who ignores the tactical lessons of writing. You will write passively. You will generalize. You will fail to engender conflict and struggle.
Sure, the generals of war can claim their efforts gave meaning, perspective and context for the battles. But it is the infantry, the sergeants, the gunnery grunts and medics and soldiers who end up winning the war. Without their devotion, their perseverance, the war, your book will be lost – a casualty of faulting fighting, er, I mean writing.
A case in point: Does the reader know that your story has a sweeping outline, a broad global expanse of issues and topics of the day — when they begin to read?
The first feature of your story, your novel, your readers will stumble into, like a machine gun nest spitting out deadly wasps of lead, is your writing. Your words etched into pressed cellulose or inked across a glowing screen; these will be your reader’s introduction to your story. Fumble your breach, step on a mine, disturb the brush in which you hide and your reader will SHOOT YOU DOWN!
So, plan your war. Layout your characters and the venue onto which you will expose them. But first and foremost, write your words well.