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Planning or flying?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ban, Mar 1, 2018.

  1. Ban

    Ban Staff Article Team

    So how do you write your stories? One word after another is the most obvious answer, but I'm curious to know how much each of you plan things out versus how much you fly by the seat of your pants. Discussions like these have been had before, but things change and people change so I'm starting a new discussion.

    I've begun to notice as I progress through my mafia fic 'Mobster Yuppie', that I'm much more spontaneous in my writing than I anticipated. I have the plot of the story very clearly written down to the what, who and why, but I have no idea where, when and how things take place until I start writing that chapter.

    The biggest positive of my half and half approach, is that writing remains fun and exciting, while still being fairly structured. I am starting to fear however that further down the line my writing might devolve into something less structured than it could have been, although there's a point to be made that a more organic feel to the story isn't a bad thing either.
  2. Yora

    Yora Mystagogue

    For me, detailed planning is mandatory. I'm not at all good with sticking to things without being forced to and knowing where I am going helps a lot with avoiding losing interest.
    I also have expectations of a certain amount of artistic depth. I need to fully believe in what I am doing or I'm losing interest quickly. And for a story with some degree of deeper meaning, I expect the whole thing to have a clear focus and all the scenes working together towards a single goal. I can't even imagine how that could be done without having established the main plot points, the character development, and the ending before starting to write.
  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I'm a half-and-halfer too. Plot points, character motivations, and most of the broad strokes of the story get planned out. The fine grain stuff gets made up on the fly.

    I find that it doesn't matter if I plan the fine grain stuff. Most of the time the plans for that get thrown out the second I sit down to write it because I have a better idea. I think this is because my understanding of the story increases and changes with every scene I write. So what seems like a good idea initially may not be once I understand things a little more.
  4. Ruru

    Ruru Master

    I'm also a half and halfer. Thought to be fair its only recently that I've sat down and scoped the full skeleton plot out. My on the fly writing had been allowed to ramble a bit too much. I find that this has allowed me to flesh out each section and keep that creative edge, but still have the overall direction and goal mapped out. I don't plot point detail at all, but I have scenes that are written in flashes of inspiration far ahead of where I am actually up to. These work as way markers for me: whatever I write needs to some how get me close to those pieces.

    Having the end helps the most I think. If you're going to have nothing else in the way of plotting, I think have the end, at least in its rudimentary form. Even change it along the way if your story evolves, but so long as you have something to aim at. Otherwise I think you're at risk of bringing a directionless element into your words.
    Yora likes this.
  5. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

    Waypoint writer. I have key elements figured out, the end and other set pieces. Part of this comes from personal experience with how I write and some of it comes from screenwriting study. After studying hundreds of movies (good and bad) and after seeing H-wood’s disfunctions around the high concept pitch, I decided that without a great ending, the story isn’t worth jack. So, you better have that ending. Also, in screenwriting, set pieces are a big deal. When looking to turn Game of Thrones into a series one of the big sell points was the set pieces that Martin had set up... these are the scenes that light up the word of mouth the next day.

    Themes and character arcs and modern 3 act plot points just happen as I go and I clean them up later if need be.

    Gone Girl is an excellent example of concept meeting set pieces and ending (haven’t read the book, but will get to it someday, LOL.).

    EDIT: This also helps explain my utter loathing of the query system. If I were a publishing house editor or movie exec I’d ask for the pitch, then I’d say: How does it end? And one would be surprised by how often that awesome pitch will fall apart. Tor publishing has it right, when they request a synopsis and 3 chapters, and don’t respond to queries.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2018
  6. DylanRS

    DylanRS Apprentice

    Full disclosure, I haven't written any fiction yet. This is what I imagine, so with that in mind...

    Yin or Yang? The way I see my approach going is that I'll start off with Something. That could be a question or a dilemma. It could be a character. It could be a trope. Maybe someday I'll want to work with a sort of genre-fied skeleton of a plot. Just Something with a capital s (edit: It could also be as complicated as a simple, vague synopsis or mcguffin-type sentence). That'd be the first plan, and it'd be relatively single-celled.

    Next, I think I'd gradually complicate the plan, but then STOP. Let me play with these two characters, these contradictory temperaments, this moral dilemma. Let me zap some new independent pieces into existence. By this point, though, the story has a True Name and it's not the title. What I mean is, there's something that is the essence, and nothing I come up with is as relatively set in stone as this essence. Relatively, because even the essence is in danger. But at this point in the process it's the anchor.

    Some plans might then form. They'll come in varying degrees of distinction, but they don't threaten the essence until the essence is ready to be led to the next goal post. Planning and creating will inform each other but not necessarily force each other. I could come up a broad ending first or last or in bits and pieces as I go along. It's just the final product that has to have a beginning, middle, and end. And even then, this could be true only in the sense that books physically have a first and last page - you might decide to get real weird with the concept.

    Edit: I got kind of specific with my imagined process. My point is that I don't think I'll let a plan get away from the content creation itself. Yin and Yang.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2018
  7. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Mystagogue

    Discovery and way-point. I have a general idea, key characters, some settings, themes, and an ending mostly locked down. Lots of twists and turns. But, I still want room for spontaneity and exploring sub plots and details. I like being able to rearrange scenes and edit at will. Sometimes, the way point changes completely or gets eliminated and it's all part of the process.

    I've written under very structured, ridgid outlines to create narratives and I appreciate the method, but it frankly isn't as fun or inspiring to think out thought exercises and explore ideas/ themes on the fly.
  8. DragonOfTheAerie

    DragonOfTheAerie Valar Lord

    I'm a discovery writer. Often i outline a few or several chapters ahead of where i am in the writing, but that's a loose guideline and usually is partially discarded in favor of impulsivity and whimsy.
  9. Ban

    Ban Staff Article Team

    Seems like there's quite some variation to this. I wonder if there's any consensus opn the 'best' approach among the most succesful fiction authors.
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

    I can't fly by the seat of my pants in writing. I wander by the seat of my pants. I sit and stare by the seat of my pants. Occasionally I dash blindly into the jungle by the seat of my pants. If _only_ I could fly!

    I appear to do a few things consistently before I start writing. One is to choose the tone--the voice for that specific story. I'll choose the point of view, the setting in a general way (in what part of Europe and what era) because setting in Altearth affects the parameters within which the story must work. I'll have at least one key character, usually two--protagonist and antagonist--or more.

    Like others, I do have an ending in mind, but only in a very general way, and it often changes. Not dramatically; or, I might say, dramatically in the sense that the revision better serves drama. I don't know how I could have an exact ending in mind when my character's actions drive the plot, and my characters often do things that I had not planned. I don't usually know the real ending until the second draft or so. I have to write my way to it.

    BantenBanten, I don't believe there is a consensus anywhere as to the methods of successful writers. And even if there were, I for one would not be able to adopt their approach. This is like asking if there's a consensus among batters on how to stand and how to swing. Or among painters on how to apply paint. The best thing, imo, is to listen to all that variety and choose bits that resonate or inspire.
  11. Ban

    Ban Staff Article Team

    Agreed. Following one's own path tends to be for the best, especially in creative endeavors. However, if there were a consensus among the most succesful in the field, I'd know what general direction to aim for in my approach to writing.

    There probably isn't a consensus on it though. Creative things tend to be frustratingly unstructured.
  12. Curatia

    Curatia Apprentice

    For our novels, we are very structured. Ours is planned to be a long-running series with many side projects and so we are very strict about timelines and making sure that everything serves the meta plot.

    We actually took some cues from previsualizations in the movie industry and not only outline, but also block and sometimes act out scenes to make sure that what we have makes sense and feels authentic.

    In our short fiction, especially flashes and short stories, we are much more likely to discovery write. We like the freedom to just see what springs to life in the shorts.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  13. Eastwatcher

    Eastwatcher Apprentice

    My novel is the first thing I've ever tried to write creatively and was done almost entirely by seat-of-your-pant. It was good in that it allowed me to be creative and spend a long time experimenting with different writing styles and whatnot, but it was awful from a practical perspective. My first draft tanked out at 333,000 words! Then by the fifth draft, I decided to rewrite the entire novel from scratch. Then by the ninth draft, I realised it was far too long to ever get published but could be broken into two novels very easily. Now, after just finishing draft eleven and massively reducing the word count further to a more respectable 160,000, I finally have something that a lit agent might actually look at. If I had planned it out at least a little, then I could have saved literally thousands of hours of work on sections which are no longer necessary. But at the same time, I needed to build my writing skills from scratch, which meant putting in the time to find my voice and actually get to grips with what writing is. So in short, I couldn't be where I am today without doing it by seat-of-my-pants, but all my work after this is going to be a hell of a lot more organised. The bonus is that I've already got a big chunk of the sequel written though. Now I just need to get this badboy published.
  14. xkara

    xkara Apprentice

    I think I need to start planning my stories. When I try to write without planning, it starts to look like I'm challenging myself to be as vague as possible to keep writing words without deciding what those words are about. So I get good at writing vague, mysterious beginnings, and nothing else!

    I imagine a great way to get over my writer's block might be to brainstorm and plan and outline, rather than trying to go from blank page to prose.
    Eastwatcher likes this.
  15. Beanie_Zed

    Beanie_Zed Apprentice

    Chiming in late on this...

    I'm another half-and-halfer (plantsing, anyone?). I really enjoy worldbuilding and character-building, and will use these as plotting tools instead of straight-up outlining. Once I have the MCs fleshed out enough, they'll start begging to be let loose in their world. I usually know generally where we're going and what we need along the way, but for the most part I let the characters to the driving.
    Eastwatcher likes this.
  16. Eastwatcher

    Eastwatcher Apprentice

    Plantsing... I like that. I like that a lot.

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