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How Much Planning Do you Do before starting your story


I've been plotting out a story for a few weeks now, and I've been doing it pretty strictly since I just got back into writing after a I don't know how many years hiatus. I've never plotted this rigorously when I've written in the past, and for me I think it's good to come back, and structure a story so I have a clear outline. I've been using an app to do so and the pemplates have been helping me a lot, but that made me also think: how much planning is too much planning? Taking the plunge to actually start writing said story is making me nervous, so I've been using writing prompts and small writing exersises to get my feet in the water so to speak.

But I figured I'd post this question. How much planning is too much planning? I've been making in depth character bios, locations, storylines, even chapter to chapter outlines. But I've gotten 12 chapters into planning and in my head I'm just like ok, it's time to start writing said chapters because you've hit a road block with chapter plotting until you get to writing and see what the characters will do to mold the story.

So I guess the short of this is, how much of your overall story do you plan before writing your first draft?


Myth Weaver
All of that is way more than I do. Though it might be fair to say i have done all that in my head already.

Typically i have an idea of some waypoints and head off to them. My strategy is not one of planning and outlining, its agree to write one sentence everyday and always move forward not back.

As the siggy says, the rough is the outline.


I'v always had to write at least something down or else my head feels like it's going to explode with all the content I have planned so I admire that you can do it like that :D
Maybe I’m at a similar stage to you, although I’ve written quite a lot already, and I’m writing multiple stories at the same time. For me it has depended on the intended length, so I have four novellas I’m working on, all are written in first person present with one main character. So I have basically decided on some of the plot while writing those.

While on the other hand for my longer work I’ve made map, a belief system, character arcs and profiles, location details and lots of other little things, that will hopefully help me build the bigger picture. This is because I need to think about consistancy, the multiple layers of the story and because I’m writing this particular story in (mainly) the past tense, and I don’t just have one main character.

Thing I’ve learnt from hanging around here is that there are some experienced writers, and that everyone has their own different methods.

And I’m also always open to change. As I write sometimes I’m not feeling what was in my head or vice versa.


Interesting. I also have a few ideas bouncing around that I have less plans for but it's set in a completely different world so doesn't need to use the planning of the bg novel. The other one is more novella length, what I have planned for it anyway but good point that everyone writes differently.

Mad Swede

I'm severely dyslexic so I don't do any written outlining or planning at all. But I do think the story through, so I know where it starts, where it ends and roughly how it gets there. The same with the characters, I think them through too, but I don't write any notes. Then I start to write.
The most important thing to realize here is that each writer is different. What works for me will not work for you or someone else. Therefore there is not specific right or wrong answer to this.

You'll often find it said that there are two kinds of writers plotters and pantsers. Plotters plot their story, while pantsers make it up as they go along. Unfortunately the world is not that simply. It's not 2 types, with everyone falling in one of the two camps. It's a spectrum. There are people who sit down with only a vague idea and a character or two and write great stories. But there are equally people like Mad Swede who have a decent idea of their story in their head before they start writing anything. They just keep it in their head instead of written down somewhere.

Then there are people who create waypoints. They know they needs scenes A, B and C, before the conclusion at D. They just don't know how to get from one point to the next until they start writing. You also have people who create full outlines per chapter. And I've also come across (very successful I might add) writers who create 20.000 word outlines before they start writing their story.

There is no right or wrong here. There is only the fact that for some people writing an outline means they can't write the story anymore because they feel they've already written it (like Stephen King). While others can't write without some kind of outline because they otherwise have no idea where they're going. I also know writers who created an outline, but then when writing completely deviated from said outline.

So the only correct answer here is that you need as much outline as you need to get your story written. And unfortunately, the only way to learn how much that is for you, is to try it.

To give you 2 useful pointers, which may or may not help you decide how much you need:
- remember that different doesn't necessarily mean better. When you find yourself tweaking your outline without making any real changes or improvements you've gotten it as good as it can get. Stop changing it and start writing
- you could give yourself a time-limit for creating your outline and world. Give yourself 1 month (or whatever) to create the outline and after that sit down to write. This way, you make sure you don't get stuck in endlessly tweaking something.

lastly, remember that you can always go back to outlining. If you start writing now and you find that you need more outline, you can just go back to outlining for a bit. That's what I did when writing my first novel. At some point I had no clue where to go next and I realized that I needed some kind of outline. So I took a few hours to create one for the rest of the story. Equally, you don't need to stick to your outline. If you're writing and you find that the story takes a different turn and you never look at your outline, then you don't need to create a new one.


Article Team
For me, with every book I write, I find I plan just a little bit more. I pantsed my way through my first book, all 275k words of it. Then, I went to doing a short outline of the overall story using three act structure. From that it went to a more in-depth overall story outline with scene-by-scene breakdown. Fast-forward to my current WIP and it was an in-depth overall outline, an outline for every plot/subplot thread for every significant character, and then, before I wrote each scene, I'd do an in-depth outline for it. The scene outlines would sometimes come in at well over 1k words.

I found, that as I plan more, the cleaner the first drafts became. I was also more confident in where the story was going. With my first few books after my first, I found that I would run into snags towards the end of the book, and I'd eventually have to rewrite/replan the second half of the story from scratch. Didn't have to do it at all in my WIP. Still had to do plenty of editing work, and things definitely changed on the fly, but it always felt like I was on firm footing and that felt really nice. Takes a bit more time to get the first draft done, but I think it's worth it.

I think for me, the in-depth outlining helped me keep track of all little things I wanted to do with the story and characters. Before, there were times where I'd be writing and I'd realize I'd forgotten a bunch of tiny things I'd wanted to do with the story and characters. There'd be a pause and super deep sigh that turned into me banging my head against he keyboard.


New Member
For me, I live with the story idea in my head and let it percolate, and the characters take shape, and the world take shape, etc. Once the story and the characters and setting are firming up in my head, I use a template I've created - just 6 columns (Chapter, Characters Present, Setting, Beat Point, Narrative Arc, Summary of What Happens) and just briefly note what's what in each. (really briefly first off).

I do this for however many chapters I've worked out I will need to get me to the final scene. AND NOTE: For me, that final scene ALWAYS gets nailed down first. Unless I have that last scene nailed down and know precisely where my characters are going to finish up, I can't really get started.

So, having nailed down my last scene, I list out the main points in my story - the spine if you like - as a brief chapter summary of what should happen in each chapter to get me to that end scene.

I let that sit for a while, then I go back and for each chapter, I expand on that info and just hammer out the gist of the chapter, without worrying about typos (and sometimes capitalization).

Then I reread, and will usually see where I need more info. Then I go back to the hammered out chapters, and flesh them out further, this time with pacing and flow and proper formatting. By this stage I will have anywhere upwards of 1500 words in each chapter and can, at this point, clearly see the shape of the story. The rest from then on is usually pretty smooth sailing.


toujours gai, archie
I do lots of planning, but with a corollary that the planning is not all up front. I do *some* planning. Like Penpilot, I find I do a bit more planning with each new book. I'll assume that means planning up front. But as writing starts, the story quickly deviates from the initial plan. This happens for two major reasons and several minor ones.

The big reasons are character and plot. That is, my characters develop--both in themselves and in relation to each other--as they begin to appear in actual scenes. Very soon I find a character I'd envisioned behaving one way needs now to behave in a different way. Or motivations I had thought sufficient turn out not to be. And so on. With plot it's more along the lines of problems. The story moves from A to B. That's the sort of thing that's in the planning. Then I actually contemplate the proposition and realize getting to B is either impossible or will require some revision of existing chapters. And revision of later, planned chapters. And so on.

So, what was once planned becomes re-planned. Over and over, even into very late chapters.

I spent a couple of books fretting over this, believing I needed to "plan better." I now choose to believe this is simply my "process" (a lovely word that covers a multitude of sins and shortcomings). I may not be a better writer for it, but I'm a happier writer (which still leaves me on the swampy side of gloomy).

Insolent Lad

For me, with every book I write, I find I plan just a little bit more.
For me, just the opposite. Practice may not make perfect but it makes more facile, at least in my case. Much of my planning is world building—setting the stage—and the plot may well arise from the cultures and histories I create. Typically, I have bits of the story written out, and thoughts, questions, ideas I might want to explore, which I put into a proper order to create a sort of loose synopsis, and then take it from the start.

Miles Lacey

I draw up an outline then pad it out until I'm satisfied with the story I've created. Then I throw it away for several months or so and return to it. If I can stomach the crud I have written I work on it more. Then I toss it aside for another several months before returning to it Hence the reason why my work in progress is taking so long to write.

Now if I was writing political propaganda (which is what most of my bread and butter writing is) it requires no planning because I've got it down to a fine art.

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Oh, so much prep. It looks like this.

This is a full-blown series bible done in OneNote, so no one's eyes are blue on page 35 and hazel on 218. We keep our outlines in here, all character detail, book and series notes, and research links and articles. We find the better our notes, the easier the drafting is and the faster we write. This is the series bible for our main series (and you can only see a sliver of what's actually there), and we have others in progress to support the other series we are developing.

I'm our team's drafter and autistic, and my process works best when I have as detailed an outline as possible to work with. So, we end up with chunky prewrites that contain bits of dialogue, important descriptions, and everything else we can think of before turning me loose on a chapter. Last book's outline overshot 100 pages by a little bit. The paperback itself could kill a man.
Now, this is just my team's process. We are champion plotters. Your process can look very different, to reflect your creativity and inspiration. Think you have enough planning to write? Then write. Think you aren't ready yet? Then let the story simmer in your brain for a little while longer, but don't let prep become the whole of the project. You'll find yourself researching while you draft, before work, when you should be sleeping. Everything for the writing. And once you master your process (okay, way before), you're going to be someone's favorite author.


40k into my first book, I realized that I'd written my characters into a corner that would not allow the ending I wanted. Even though I scrapped it to start over, it was useful to solidify my characters' motivations and to just get my head wrapped around writing a full-length book. Since then, I've done extensive planning before writing. At the very least, I must have GMC: Goal Motivation Conflict nailed down for my protag, side-kicks, and antagonist.

It can only be "too much" planning if it's getting in the way of starting. Maybe try writing a character sketch or vignette to get started without pressure?


toujours gai, archie
Much of my "planning" quickly becomes writing out descriptions, snippets of dialog, narrative. This continues throughout the process.

IOW, I find drawing a line between planning and writing to be artificial and not especially useful. It's all writing in one form or another, even if it doesn't make it into a page count at the end.
I myself just took an unplanned hiatus from writing myself and I've also come back to find things have changed with me a little. I grew a lot in the past two/three years and experienced things I never have been that's created different interests.

Too much planning is when that is ALL you're doing and not writing progress is happening. This WAS me big time. Ten novels thoroughly and religiously planned out and not even a word of my first paragraph in 10 years. Or maybe the first few chapters and I lost interest.

I would say that it varies how much planning I do. Sometimes I steal fantasy world's I've created from other ideas and characters so obviously the planning is done. Some stories (like my new current one) deals with a religious system that features around saints rather than Gods and these saints were people that actually existed; they either done something very good or very bad. That had required building a religion as it's a central part where my others didn't include religion at all. This one also requires I understand the power of belief to a realistic level. Some one couldn't have God like qualities from a belief alone but they could mistake some coincidences as a call to action from a deity especially if everyone believes they are "special" even if it does only serve their purposes.
This one also required I create a fairly perfect, righteous main character but with a few visible cracks for flaws that could be exposed and some wounds that might make her buy the story and be easily manipulated. I had to learn how to create a heroic, almost perfect character and then take her down the path of becoming a worse one.
The plot required less planning and that came to be very "whole". Just a few places needed a name and a little research but otherwise nothing I can't do after I've made my first draft.

But as a rule I do like to do some planning. I do what I feel I need to do and then make a start. I think with me discipline is the problem.