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Plotting/Planning- How long does this stage take?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Nbafan, Sep 28, 2013.

  1. Nbafan

    Nbafan Dreamer

    Hi all!

    So a little background. About a year ago, an idea for a story struck me. Basically, I felt that I had a fairly strong idea for the beginning and a good, unique way to end it. Problem was everything in between.

    Fast forward a year. I wrote about 7 chapters, approximately 25,000 words, before realizing my mistake. Now I have decided to start over, but to make sure to do a good job planning it all out to avoid having to start over again.

    So what I'm wondering is, how long do you guys find this stage typically takes? A month, three months, a year? Also, if anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears.


  2. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    Honest answer:

    Until you're ready to write.

    There is no typical time frame to this stage. I can tell you how long the "pro's" supposedly take, but that's an unfair comparison. They're running a business with contract (or self-imposed) deadlines to consider. At this point in your development as a writer, it's perfectly normal to make mistakes and learn from them. We all do. So don't sweat how long it's taking. You're not on a deadline, and this is art, not rocket science. Keep working, keep learning, and you'll be fine.
    Nbafan likes this.
  3. Roc

    Roc Troubadour

    I agree with A.E.

    It's going to take as long as you need it to take. If someone tells you it takes 3 months and you're 2 months in and aching to write but thinking that you need to plan for another month, that's not a good approach. For some it takes zero time to plan and they just start with an idea and see where it goes. The spectrum is long and wide and you shouldn't feel the stress to find your place on it. You will just know when you begin.

    Personal Experience: I don't actually like to plan very much because I find when I'm writing I stray heavily from my plans. I just have pretty rough outlines plus lots of character bios and such. But as far as outlining, I try to keep it minimal myself and just have a general idea of the goals and themes I want to accomplish.

    Good luck!

    Edit: A.E., I just read your entire post. I might point out G.R.R.M. as an example of screwing around with his deadlines. I doubt a publisher would give him a six year deadline, but that's how long it took him. To be fair, they're quite long books.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2013
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  4. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    In my case, I have a world fairly well detailed in some places and quite sketchy in others.

    In the parts of the world I am interested in, there are specific events (battles, voyages, ect) that I know took place.

    I also have crude descriptions or concepts of various characters.

    So, what I often do is go 'I want to write a story descibing how event X went down.' I then pick a character or flesh out a concept and write the story, usually tightly centered on that POV.

    A lot of the time, I'll have a concept, so I'll look through the notes and maps for the world until I find a place where that concept works, then pick the characters and write from there.

    Worth pointing out, this is mostly shorter fiction. In reviewing my past efforts, it turns out that most of what I presumed to be 'novels' were in fact novellas or shorter works.
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  5. Guy

    Guy Inkling

    I generally don't do a great deal of planning. I'm a procrastinator as it is, and for me planning easily becomes another way to avoid writing. I usually start out with characters and a general idea of the story and go from there. I find that as I write I can better see how to fit different things together, where to go with the story, what to do with it, etc. Sometimes I have different scenes in mind (I usually get very vivid ideas for these just suddenly occurring to me) but I have no idea how to get from scene A to scene B. I just write the scenes. As I do and fill in the rest of the story, I find ways to weave the disparate scenes together. It's sort of like putting a puzzle together. First, I get the pieces gathered in front of me. Then I find the corners and edges, and fill the rest in from there.
    Nbafan likes this.
  6. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    Most of my planning process is focused on character development. In depth sketches that cover a lot of ground: analyzing archetype mixes, character arcs, fleshing out back-story, motives, name meanings, and any details that need to be remembered for consistency.

    This part of the process generates a ton of story ideas as the character interactions form in my mind. I write them all down as I continue building my cast, then I start outlining. However, I keep my outlines very general because I prefer to write dynamically. That outline is only a road map to, from, and over major obstacles. Everything in between I am discovery writing. Due to this, the story often goes off into unplanned directions. I'm fine with that. I simply go back to the outline and alter it to accommodate the new events.

    In answer to your question, the planning process averages anywhere from three to six months. I know I've done enough planning when I just can't resist the urge to start writing the story any longer.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2013
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  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    As long as it needs to.

    It's not a question with a real answer. Some stories and some authors need a lot of work and thought, and some don't. The important thing is that you treat the plotting/planning work seriously, and give yourself deadlines, and daily goals, like you would with your writing. Don't let it become an excuse to stall.

    What are you planning? What are your story elements? How do they fit together? You have key events you want to use, how are you following through on them? Isolate whatever it is you're planning, and make sure you're doing it.

    For instance, something I learned from a friend in screenwriting (where outlining is much more common): When you're outlining, you probably have in mind a payoff, something really cool you want to happen that helps to make the book worthwhile. To get to this payoff, you need setup. What are the things that have to happen to get to the point you have in mind? How are you foreshadowing things? Finally, once the big moment happens, you can't just stop. Characters have to react; you need an aftermath.

    Maybe that's helpful to you for the preplanning, maybe it isn't. Some people find it limiting - as though once it's on paper, you have no choice but to follow it unerringly. To each their own. But the point is, don't let planning be a never ending quagmire. Keep it productive. Figure out what you need and what you're planning and do it.
    Nbafan likes this.
  8. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    The answers here are perfect. It really is something that you just need to feel out. The piece of work I'm going to be using for NaNoWriMo is one I planned for 5 months. When I sat down to write it I did fine at first, but came to a screeching halt after the first chapter. I expressed my frustrations with it in a thread here. Anyway, I have taken several weeks away from it. Basically I have just planned as much as I can (because the thought of doing more planning makes me want to hurl). I won't be touching that project until Nov. 1 and I plan on just pantsing my way through with what I already have. I feel strongly that I need to do it this way for some reason.

    On the article posted by wordwalker, I agree with the author in that every piece of work is unique and requires a different approach. Good luck to you and my best advice is to stay connected with your intention for writing this piece. As AE Lowan said you have no timeline so don't rush your masterpiece. :)
    Nbafan likes this.
  9. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    I'm in a situation where I've pretty much pantsed the first two scenes of my story (that's the Godfrey and the Golden Cow one posted in the Showcase) and now feel a need to plan the remainder out. I want to pay particularly close attention to my character developmental arcs as characterization has traditionally posed one of the greatest challenges for me as a writer (though the world-building could use some work as well). I guess my concern at the moment is that if I put more thought into my characters' back-stories and the world they inhabit, I may end up having to scrap everything I've written so far in the name of consistency with my new plans.
  10. Nbafan

    Nbafan Dreamer

    Thanks everyone. I'm guessing I've got a long way to go since I am still working on the History and have not really started on character profiles yet. Although I already have a good idea on a fair number of characters.

    Still, it is frustrating. Last time I thought I was ready to write, only to find that I hadn't planned enough. And my lack of planning ultimately caused continuity problems as well as just problems from getting from A to B, Beginning to End. Hopefully this time is different.
  11. Lawfire

    Lawfire Sage

    I am in the same boat, almost exactly. This time around I am planning and outlining a lot more throughly. I have developed a sheet where I flesh out my characters, each to whatever degree needed. I also created a scene list where I jot down a one or two sentence description of scenes that I want to include. I place them in the rough order I think they should be in. Then I take the list and create a more detailed outline from it. This has been the biggest help this time around. Like you I had a beginning and an end, but was having trouble getting there. The scene list has given me many ideas along the way, and has helped me begin to map out the middle, though I have a lot more to do before I'm satisfied. It is almost like prewriting the story.

    I may be overdoing it to some degree, but it 'seems' to be helping a lot. Good luck, and I feel your pain, so to speak.
  12. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    This question seems to come up a lot - one way or another. One thing no-one has mentioned so far...it very much depends on what else is happening in your life. Do you have a full time job, family, other hobbies or regular time commitments? If yes to two or more of these, it'll take you a lot longer to map your story out...especially job.

    The first time it occurred to me to map out a plan (instead of just pantsing - which had got me nowhere on several occasions) it took me a year. This was just mapping out what happens in bullet points, but I created 26 handwritten pages, which I then divided up into 16 chapters and wrote out even more detailed chapter plans. On top of that, I wrote character profiles for all of the main players, and finally, two short essays on concepts I'd invented which were critical to the plot. Then I was ready to start writing, and I have to say, it just poured out of me because I already knew the story and the characters so well and could really concentrate on all the little flourishes and frills as I went along. Best of all, when I got to the end, the most incredible epiphany hit me between the eyes. I hadn't planned it, but somehow it was hardwired into the genes of the story and exploded in my brain when I had developed the story sufficiently.

    Having said all that, despite being extremely proud of the concepts in that first completed novel, I can't read two sentences these days without vomiting blood.

    It takes a really long time to become any good. Mind you, if I hadn't had a full time job, the path to publication might have been a lot quicker.
  13. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    You shouldn't be afraid. Scrapping a beginning happens all the time. If it makes the story better, what do a few scenes matter? I'd gladly give up 25,000 words, and more, if I was improving the story.

    No writing effort, performed in earnest, is wasted.
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2013
    Jabrosky likes this.
  14. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I love these forums so much. The advice here is golden!

    Nbafan, you're at the right place for support and inspiration. ;)
  15. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    As long as it takes to "see" the story.

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