1. Hartnell
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    Hartnell Member

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    How much do you plan ?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Hartnell, Nov 12, 2010.

    I like to plan what I write but I just find the idea of a system like the Snowflake a little bit too much. Like its good to plan but I'd rather spend time writing as well as planning.

    I have sometimes planned my stories in my head to such an extent that I know what will happen and how it will happen and how it all fits together. The only trouble I have then is that I don't want to actually write it anymore because I know what's going to happen and its as if my creativity has been extinguished .

    So how much should you plan and into how much detail should you go into ? I like the idea of just having a vague outline of the theme and the main story and the outcome without actually knowing every detail. Surely if you plan too much it can take away the fun and actual enjoyment of creating the story as you go along.

    So how much do you plan or outline ?
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't I have a rough idea of the story and then write it. My characters write my stories - my first realisation characters didn't all behave was when one I had killed off in the third chapter of my first book was found to be gay - his partner outed him I hadn't even realised until I reread it lol. Then this character argued like mad for his life and I went back and resurrected him from his watery grave. Am I glad I did lol he has been my main character for two stories and a major one in two others.

    My NaNo is the most planned story I have ever written because I had two months from conception of the idea until I started writing it. That has worked quite well but it is not the story I started with - my plan did not include a peacock or Alice in Wonderland and Merlin as a couple. Plato has appeared lol The children in my school have become displaced historical characters. One character I thought was dead (My MC is a long living person) I discovered in the first line was still alive and well and is now a major character.

    The school secretary from a school in the first book has turned out to be four thousand years old - her role in life is to look after my main character and if he turns evil kill him lol He is currently immortal but apparently she knows how.

    Last night Alice decided to die her hair pea-green and beat up Attilla the Hun because he was rude to Merlin.
     
  3. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I mentally plan constantly but I have killed characters on spontaneous whims too. xD
     
  4. Richard H
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    Richard H New Member

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    Discovery writing

    Hi all

    This thread really interests me, and on a few levels. I'm doing a PhD on discovery writing. Here's my profile:

    http://eprofile.exeter.ac.uk/portfolio.php?uid=rjh216&section=1

    In brief, discovery writing tends to be defined by the so-called Forster quote "How do I know what I think before I see what I say?" This suggests that writing can give rise to ideas or even understanding. People (especially teachers) tend to assume the opposite, i.e. that you plan first, write second. I find that if I try to plan my writing, then my actual writing just can't follow the plan. Normally, by writing, I realise that the plan was just too simplistic, or that I really want to go off in another direction. To follow the plan would be boring for me, because I want to explore the fresh ideas or avenues that the writing has somehow thrown open.

    I see some of here seem to be thinking along these kinds of lines too. I might want to quote some of your comments for my PhD. I'll ask your permission for that first though.

    Richard
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I used to write my academic essays the same way lol Would pick a variety of quotes I liked and use them to frame it and look like I had researched. When I hit the word limit add the conclusion and hand it in. Used to have to makeup notes and planning when it was asked for. Would still write the essay and then go back and 'plan' it.

    Almost always got 'well researched' written on the bottom I didn't I just made the research tell the tale the way I wanted it to go.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    ...not as much as I think I should.
     
  7. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Interesting. I've been reading a lot on composition pedagogy and how it's shifting away from the prescriptive (thankfully) more towards discovery writing. OR discovery thinking, more accurately. One article I'm reading is interesting, because it talks about how to teach the unknown. Confusing at first, of course, but fascinating to go into any given situation open to surprise, especially when it involves teaching or writing (or writing teaching, in the case of this class).

    That's where I think discovery writing is good. Knowing your characters well enough they won't do something out of character on you, but at the same time writing in a way that allows them the freedom to define their own path.

    I think it's more complex, though, in that most writing involves many layers of planning and not planning. Novice writers especially think writing an end product can involve only discovery writing, or 'letting it flow' writing. In reality, though, in my opinion, it requires understanding when to plan, when to turn yourself over to discovery writing, when to use free-writing, when to draft in your head, how to revise with a purpose in mind, etc.

    I think the more ways a writer can learn to write, the better they'll be, and the more success they'll find because they'll have more tools.

    But I digress. To answer the initial question, I'd say that each of my stories has been written in different ways. Sometimes I've planned and plotted first, and let the characters mature in that framework. Sometimes I've crafted the characters in my head over the course of months just thinking about who they are, and then let them designed most of the plot. And sometimes I've just taken a cool idea and basically free-wrote it out and then revised it later (read as: trimmed by 50% heh) into something more structured.

    But, I've also found at various points in writing, even when I didn't know it at the time, with any given story I'm really doing a combination of all of these, planning when I get stuck, discovery writing when I feel too structured, ruminating over things in my head when I'm nowhere near my writing desk.

    I would recommend all writers to never say they're any type or style of writer and stick to that and for all to learn how to write a variety of ways under varying situations. It's helpful, even if you learn something that isn't the main way one writers, you'll find it starts being done in little bits here and there when you need it.
     
  8. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    I plan key points throughout the plot, and then fill in the gaps as I go.
     
  9. Richard H
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    Richard H New Member

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    @popsicledeath

    Thanks for that. I agree with you there, that writing is probably more about having mixed strategies. I think I plan a bit, discover a bit, edit stuff out when I'm annoyed, get on a roll when I'm pleased with myself etc. I'm probably overplaying the extent to which I find ideas through writing. When I write essays I tend to try to write an introduction and keep writing. But then I'll give up on that version and try another. It's no doubt a learning process, and if I have time I'll often end up writing 5 or 6 versions before I decide to stick with one. By that time, I feel like I know my way around an essay. Between writing, I might do more background reading or kind of make a plan in my head based on the issues that have come up via writing. So the writing could be seen as a kind of testing ground for ideas. All sorts of things going on there that are hard to define. Doing the PhD compells me to try and define and categorize though, as much as that often seems a futile thing to do.

    My angle is going to be the relationship between genre and discovery writing. I'm assuming that what we write will impact on how we write. Writers of detective fiction, for example, often say that they plan first because they have to know where and how the story will end. Planning seems essential there - though I may be wrong. But quite a few short story writers, such as Raymond Carver and Flannery O'Connor, say that they try to write a story in one go, and they don't know how it's going to turn out. For them, the writing is about the experience of feeling the work move as it progresses. Lots of the current theory on writing sees planning and discovery as opposites that are a part of your orientation as a writer. That is, you are either a discoverer or a planner. I think there's probably a lot of truth to that position, but that what you are making will influence how you make it. A metaphor for that being building. For example, you have to put the plasterboard on before you plaster, and the wiring has to go in before the plasterboard. Writing isn't building, warranted, but my example of detective fiction is probably a good example of some writing having a structure that requires a certain order to its making.

    I find it really interesting to see what you and others are writing here. My thinking is a bit distant from writing because I'm theorizing it much more than I'm actually doing it. But lots of people on this forum are doing writing more than they are theorizing it, or so I imagine. I appreciate that. I'm an amateur photographer. I consider myself a decent photographer, though I've hardly theorized it at all. Just learned from doing it, which has been a very cool experience.

    Thanks for your input here. Appreciated!!
     
  10. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I definitely empathize with trying to define and categorize! Not easy, but the process seems to lend toward a lot of insight (more so than the resulting definitions and categories, I would argue).

    Interesting topic to research. I'm mostly reading others research at this point, but am fine with that. heh

    I think people start out as natural discoverers or planners, but I consider them techniques that can be learned (and should be learned). And sometimes I discover-write my way into planning scenes or plot points, and sometimes I have to plan to get myself writing, then allow myself to discover once I am.

    It's all very interesting stuff, and I'm sure you'll have a lot to research and study! Probably too much :p I look forward to hearing more from you and on your discoveries.
     
  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I've often found that once I start writing, the characters tend to take over. I plan the basic plot idea, and the elements of the main characters, and then I let the writing take me wherever it wants to go (although I usually have an idea where that is going to be).

    The project I'm working on now is somewhat different in that I only had a very fuzzy idea of what I wanted to do when I started, but I had a strong sense of the kind of environment in which the story would take place. And so I just started, with almost no idea of who the main character really was or what he was up to. But as I've gone on, ideas have kept occurring to me, and I've gone back and refined some of the earlier parts to make them consistent with where the story is now going, and as the picture had become more clear, I've gotten more and more excited about it.
     
  12. erader2
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    erader2 Member

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    I think Richard is probably right about the genre playing a big role in how much planning goes into an author's writing. I think it also matters whether the story is more plot-driven versus character-driven.

    I think mine is a weird mix of both. I usually come up with a concept of the story rather than the character and then writing until I discover who the character is, at which point I usually make a lot of changes to the plot. If I'm stuck I like to just write a story about the character, even if it's completely out of context that gives me a better idea as to the character's motivation.

    This is a really interesting thread
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Except I didn't even plan my genre lol I wandered into it whilst I was writing my first story.
     
  14. Top Cat
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    Top Cat Senior Member

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    Considering the medium I write - I plan A LOT. I lay all the ground work, do copious amounts of research, and even character bios, until I mush all that into a treatment.

    Writing for film is quite structured, and is described as a craft. There's nothing more frustrating than writing 90 pages and finding structural flaws you could have spotted in the treatment (film outline.)

    So yeah, I plan it excessively...In fact, I'm procrastinating from a treatment now...:rolleyes:

    Were I writing prose - I'd probably plan less rigidly as prose is less tight on space as it were :-D
     
  15. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Planning? What the hell is that?

    But seriously I don't. Half the fun in writing is taking the adventure along with my characters. There is nothing like realizing a small detail in a previous part of the story turns into something much much more. In one story I mentioned a locked door in a building. Just threw it in there because I needed the word count for last years NaNoWriMo. Turns out a woman was locked down there because of her crazy ex boyfriend.

    I usually just start off with a rough idea of where I want to go and a general idea of what my character is like or what they have to overcome. From there anything can happen and I just love discovering new things about my characters.
     
  16. Naiyn
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    Naiyn Contributing Member

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    I used to plan and outline and then plan some more until I realized I wasn't writing anything. So now I mix it up. I get the very basic idea down, then let the characters explore and develop out of that.

    When I do plan, I set up my outline as chapters in the novel, starting with a two or three paragraphs of the actual writing, followed by a brief synopsis of what happens throughout the chapter. And I try to keep the whole thing dynamic, so if I need to change/add/move something, I can do so easily.
     
  17. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    I never used to plan, never really wrote knowing I had a genre, unless it was horror. I wrote buckets more than I do now - but it never had an ending, because the plot, although lots of stuff happened, didn't have a through line.

    Now, wary of ever doing this again, I outline a LOT, but this has backfired - I recently planned a novel to death (a horrible feeling). I poured all my love into the thirty-point outline, sucking out all the spontaneity there could have been in the novel. In an ironic twist, I've put it in a drawer, having never wrote The End. I really hope I come back to it some day... :/

    At the moment I'm writing a very unstructured piece. The plot's all in my mind, I have a random sequence of events, but I have a good idea of the ending. Suffice to say it's going really very well and I think I've found out this is the way I work best.

    If only I could have discovered that in time to save my poor novel... :(
     
  18. Richard H
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    Richard H New Member

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    @ Top Cat

    I'd love to know what you mean by a "structural flaw". Perhaps you mean something that jars or somehow doesn't quite work, or something redundant or a voice that doesn't fit in or sound right. (P.S. I hope this doesn't sounds like a silly question. It's just that I've read quite a bit of structural theory, and yet it's often more from the theory than the practice side. So your input could give specific context for me - rather than being non-applied kind of theory.)

    I've never written for film, but I'm guessing that you're part of a team, and that what you write has to fit in with other things, like how an actor might perform your words, or how a director might use a certain location, or what kind of camera work will be used. Do you have to take such considerations into account when you write, or do you kind of take a lead, and these things kind of fit in with what you write? I'm guessing there is all kinds of give and take between how elements (e.g. the text, the director, actors, producers) interact with each other.

    Do you also have to be able to explain your work in meetings and suchlike? I have to be able to explain my PhD thoughts to my supervisors, and that means I try to draw diagrams for them, try to show how certain things (like methods, questions, and theory) are linked. I'm guessing you have to do something similar, so that you can describe your vision or 'what you're aiming at' to other members of the team.

    If you could just say a few things about the demands of writing for film, that would be great. I'm interested in tasks and people's perception of tasks, and how those things impact on what they actually do, i.e. their writing processes.

    Thanks

    Richard
     
  19. miss_darcy
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    miss_darcy Member

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    I usually only plan out a few things like setting, my main idea I want to get across in my story, and a few things that I want to have happen in my story. But that was back when I was just writing short stories and fanfiction. Now that I'm trying to write a novel, I've been doing a lot of research on the type of novel that I'm writing, I've been looking at different types of herbs and witchcraft and such, I've been looking at latin words, I've been looking at common and uncommon catch phrases, and I've been looking at baby names books. I've also been looking at pictures and information for the type of landscape that I want. Basically what happens is that I have this image in my head and I'm running with it but I want to make it the best it can be. And instead of starting out with my heroes motives (seeing how right now they're 12 years old, so they don't have much of a motive yet) I started with my villain's motive and that evolved my plot so much more, because when I first got this idea back in the summer his motive was to kill the leader just because he was a "terrible" leader. And that wasn't a very good motive (at least in my point of view) so now that I have that, I can make my story evolve now because I have all of that established. But now I just have to sit down and write it!
     
  20. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't really plan. I just write and see where it takes me.
    Although, for my Nano novel, I am sort of planning it but only to the extent of knowing key events like 'blah blah does this, then this happens' etc. It's not in detail or anything.
    I actually planned a story the other week and was following my outline for it and the result wasn't great. I'd written it a lot like a list, being like 'he did this.. then he did that..' etc. because I was following an outline so I don't think planning prose fiction is personally for me.
    When I write scripts sometimes, I do tend to plan. I have to know what's going to happen in each scene so I know how the play will work as a whole. So for writing scripts, I think planning is actually really useful.
     
  21. Top Cat
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    Top Cat Senior Member

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    Writing for film is very much like construction. So a structural flaw could be anything from a misplaced scene to a redundant sequence. Every film has key emotional beats - preferably in escalation. Unlike prose, you don't have the capacity to be as flexible. You have approximately 90-110 pages, or 45-60 pages to cram in a story. It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with a finite amount of pieces. Therefore, you'll observe that films have very similar structures...

    Every story has a beginning, middle, and an end. Granted.

    You may introduce your inciting event at page 15, which leads to a big event at page 30. The 30 mark is the start act 2, for which the story now moves into disequilibrium. At this point - in terms of the industry - your character is expected to have a goal, and to start pursuing that goal.

    So for example, I might write a film, and 50 pages in I'm still setting up - up my characters are not in their equilibrium yet. (An extreme example, but still.) Or I may not have introduced my antagonist early enough.

    Toy Story:

    1-15 - character set up, foreshadowing, and equilibrium.
    15 - Introduction of Buzz...shakes up woody's world
    30 - Buzz is knocked out of the window. Now there is no going back for the characters. The duo embark on a journey to get home.

    Thelma and Louise:
    1-15: A mundane, domestic world
    15: embark on a road trip
    30: Murder of the rapist - no going back for the characters. The duo flee from their crimes.

    One could argue Toy Story and Thelma and Louise are the same story - in terms of the spine.

    Few screenwriters make it up as they go along. You hit dead ends, and it's a nightmare to rewrite it. That's not saying there are no organic elements to the process - I'm just exceptionally obsessive with laying down all the ground work :rolleyes:

    And yeah, there's a lot of meetings if you get commissioned or get interest. Especially for TV serials such as Doctors and Coronation street. In those cases, you even get given story threads to cram into your own 'story of the week' - so again...it gets very structural.
     
  22. Northern Phil
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    Northern Phil Active Member

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    For short stories and anything under ten thousand words then I don't need to plan. The idea pops into my head and within a few hours I can have a rough draft completed.

    I never used to like the idea of planning, but I found when I started writing my novel that I got to about thirty thousand words and I hit a wall. I was writing slowly because I was constantly having to think of things to add in, I couldn't remember some of the key points that I had made previously and the ideas about how I wanted to take it forward often got lost because I was trying to store too much information in my head.

    Now I've taken my novel back to the beginnig, I have a brilliant beginning and I use a very rough outline, it's more two to three pages of the key events that are going to take place. I've also got a character bio sheet and both of these can be updated to include additional points that I may want to look up later on without the draw back of looking through a hundred pages for one tiny little bit of info.

    You may not like the idea of planning, but trust me, it is essential if you want to finish a major piece of work.
     
  23. Hartnell
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    Hartnell Member

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    Thanks for all the replies, it is so interesting to read all of your ideas. I realise that planning is important if i want to progress as a writer but I also realise that it would be wrong to plan too much. I don't want to stop my creativity and I want to create the story as I go along but I recognise how important it is to have a plan, even if it is a loose plan. I guess it is more important with longer stories and novels but it is also useful with shorter pieces.

    Thanks for all your comments.
     

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