1. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    Planned or Impulsive?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by DeathandGrim, May 20, 2014.

    Throughout my life I've always been one to just act on impulse and make things up as I go and wing it. Never took to planning. More recently I've been practicing this whole planning thing and while it's yielding faster results and less frustration I feel like I'm constructing a rigid path that sometimes I can't deviate from and it BORES ME to KNOW where my stories are headed before they're written.

    So my question to you is: Do you prefer to plan your story through and through and then write or do you prefer to just write with that spark you keep getting every now and then and say to hell with plans?
     
  2. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm a light planner. My novel outline is roughly 50 bullet points. I wouldn't be able to write if I didn't know where I was going at all. On the other hand I like to be able to keep my plan fairly fluid. Sometimes I get good ideas part way through, or sometimes plans just don't seem to make sense once I try to implement them. Either of which can have knock on effects and involve me rewriting bits of later outline. So it doesn't feel worth the effort to go into massive detail on a written plan. I guess I've got more plans in my head
    that never make it into my outline, but those bits are even more fluid.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I rarely plan. So I don't use character sheets or outlines or any of that. I start writing and see where that takes me (usually nowhere :().

    But that's just me. You should use the approach that works best for you.
     
  4. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I plan a couple of pages of research and character traits, maybe a plot point or two, and then I'm off. Fortunately, it works for me, and I've had a few novels written as a reward. The way I see it is if I don't know the exact ending, neither will the readers, because I know the characters more deeply than them. Of course the ending may not quite work and I'll have to change it in the next draft, but I've never had any major problems. I am very blessed in that respect.

    Basically, I'm a pantser. :)
     
  5. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    I plan when I feel like planning or whenever I get stuck. Generally I have a list of points my characters need to reach, these can be emotional or physical, and sometimes do more detailed planning to link them together. I have pages and pages and pages of planning and brainstorming but I planned to do very little of that planning.
     
  6. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    It's what works for you, really. In my experience, planning is essential if you are writing a 150k+ words novel with dozens of characters and subplots, but not that necessary for short works. But it depends on the writer.

    When I've been planning books I've always written by the mantra "it's the journey that's important, not just the destination." I can plan where I'm headed but what interests me is the adventure along the way, how it changes a character, how the character can do something unexpected (surprising the writer).

    In my current work in progress, a 175000 word book, I planned the destination and certain events that led up to it, including the main characters. I didn't plan the supporting characters and some of the other events which just occurred naturally as I was writing. For example, towards the end of the first draft I started using an unplanned supporting character, an inspector, to investigate a series of terrorist attacks. I needed someone objective to discover the treachery that was building throughout the novel, but couldn't use any of my main characters without fudging the suspension of disbelief.
    At the end, I liked this supporting character so much, that during the second draft his role in the story grew and he is now featured at the beginning as well as the end.

    It's little things like that, giving your story the freedom to change naturally that helps keep a story going even if you've told much of it already during the planning stages. After all, if the story isn't fresh to you, that often translates in the writing.
    Bore yourself, and you'll bore your readers too.
     
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  7. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    All my stories tend to grow organically. The stories I do plan I never end up writing. I like creating as I go and let the story bring me some surprises. But then again, I get bored pretty quickly.
     
  8. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I feel similarly, but my reasoning is different. With me, it's not boredom, it's concentration issues and the fact I go off on tangents, and some of those tangents end up being more worthy than my original ideas.

    Also, I'm finding that, as my voice becomes more evident, I'm having to change things up to suit, so although some of my original ideas remain, the story I'm currently in the process of telling is a very different one than the one I first envisaged.

    I try to plan a little, but I always end up pantsing.
     
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  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I find that a lot depends on two things - the kind of story you want to write (not just length and complexity, as others have noted) and whether you are writing for your own pleasure or with the goal of being published.

    I started out simply "writing wherever the story took me". But my current project, a historical novel covering nearly 500 years, couldn't possibly have been written without extensive research and planning. Not only did I have to plan for several generations, but I had to work out timelines within the novel to coincide with historical timelines and make sure that their behaviors and attitudes were consistent with their historical placements. I also had to make sure that the characters within each era not only varied from one another, but also from their forbears. At the same time, I had to remain flexible in my planning because new ideas always occur to us as we write (two planned chapters never saw the light of day, while three unplanned chapters emerged).

    But I also think that you need to do more planning when writing with the goal of publication (as opposed to your own pleasure) because you are no longer just telling yourself a story. So, instead of thinking only about the story itself, you need to consider how to present that story to hold a reader's interest. Of course, one can always defer all such considerations to the editing process, but I think that creates a lot of additional work.

    In the end, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
     
  10. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like you, I get bored to tears if I know what's going to happen. Boredom is also why I edit/revise as I go - I don't like reading any story over and over, let alone one I wrote and know by heart.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i get an idea for a story/book/poem/essay and start writing... i keep on writing till i get to the end...

    if it's a novel and i'm starting to get tangled up in time lines and/or subplots, i'll stop and do up a skeleton outline, to keep things straight...
     
  12. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I plot, but I never get bored writing when I know the ending. I'm the type that will reread books or rewatch movies to find the things I missed the first time. When I write, I think of little things that can enhance the story. Or I might even realize a different path from the outline. (My outlines aren't set in stone.)
     
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  13. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't plan short stories. I have a thin idea or concept and then start writing.

    Novels on the other hand I plan a little - not all. I used to plan everything down to character's dress sizes - :rofl::dry: The trouble is when I went to write I knew everything, very limiting and dull, and so when interesting little inner voices went pssst - why don't you have so-and-so do this? I would ignore the suggestions and in the end the story ran like clockwork but ultimately didn't feel satisfying. Now, I welcome any subconscious suggestions - even sitting and stewing on a scene to see if anything better can be done. No rush. But I don't follow every weird notion only the ones that make me sit up and go whoa - where did that come from.
     
  14. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    I agree. The answer to the OP's question depends largely on what kind of story you're planning. A novel with few characters and a simple plot might lend itself readily to 'pantsing', while a historical novel by definition will require more planning.

    In the interview Oprah did with Cormac McCarthy a few years ago, I think he said he never plans because that would take all the fun out of it (or something to that effect). I find it hard to believe that he never does any research, ever, but apparently the minimal planning approach is what has worked for him, too:).
     
  15. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    What does research have to do with planning/not planning?
     
  16. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Well, it seems that you would do research with some sort of goal in mind as a writer, unless you pursue things just out of interest. In McCarthy's case there is a lot of specific information in his books re: survival skills and the drug trade in Mexico, for ex. He may have investigated that stuff for the hell of it or just come up with the facts spontaneously, but it seems doubtful.

    In terms of a historical novel research is synonymous with planning. How could you possibly develop a plot without knowing the events, timelines, and cultural idiosyncrasies that were in place at the time?

    I suppose you could tell a random tale with nothing but experience to guide you, but most books require some degree of research (that =s planning to acquire).
     
  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Um, I do tons of research without planning the story. I research as needed, depending on what happens in the story. I've written quite a bit about the Vietnam War, which, I suppose, is now "historical". I want something to happen, so I research to find out if A) it's feasible and then B) what details are pertinent to the story. Then, as I write, I sift through the research gathered to see what will actually work in the story.

    So - no planning, tons of research. Others - tons of planning, no research. Still others - combination of the two.

    Two separate issues.
     
  18. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    a big fan of chuck palahniuk, i've realized that he must do a descent amount of planning because his endings are always twist endings. wish i could do that but don't think i ever could.
     
  19. Mercissa
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    Mercissa Member

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    I don't plan plots. I know the characters inside and out though, and I know where I want them to be by the end of the whole ordeal. I think that's enough to give it a kick-start. Then, little detailed plot points would come to me as I write because the characters would only act a specific way at that specific stage of development. Otherwise, I think it wouldn't look realistic enough to the readers. But then again, I'm generally a spontaneous person and probably should practice more planning.
     
  20. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Since I write together with @KaTrian, we kinda have to use things like character data sheets since we have our own characters in the story and we need to know as much as we can about each other's characters to better understand the whys and hows.

    For instance, I can't really write my MC doing something that would cause Kat's MC to kill him/her, or we'd have a pretty short story.

    We also need to plan more carefully than if we wrote separately since we both need to have a good idea of what the purpose of a scene is, where we want to go with it.

    However, a lot of times we've decided on a scene, but when we start writing it, turns out that the characters take us into a new direction, resulting in a surprise twist neither of us had planned. This usually happens when it's not until we write the scene that one of us realizes the planned resolution of the scene would mess up a character's psychological plausibility, for instance, or a plot hole reveals itself or some such.

    Then again, we've written over a dozen first drafts with nothing else planned except the characters and the basic setting (time period, the world and country/area they live in, what's going on there etc). The rest is often improvisation and the true plot starts to reveal itself after something like 50k words or some such.
    Yeah, we rewrite a lot; our current WIP is in its... I dunno, 20th draft or so (it's one of those stories that started off with a setting, a bunch of characters, and the rest was pure improv).
    And yeah, we're sick of it on some level, and it will be a relief to finish it/get to move on to the next story, but, then again, we love the story, the characters etc, so even after going through it so many times, it's still exciting and interesting, especially since the story keeps evolving, changing, getting better (our beta readers are heaven-sent. You know who you are ;)).

    I like it that even after so many rewrites, we have still retained that sense of impulsive creation and improvisation. Sometimes a tiny change can affect the entire story, even change its outcome, or we may suddenly decide to switch something around (e.g. what if instead of killing this character, we'd kill that one?).
    In that sense, when it comes to writing, I'd say we're more like free jazzers than rockers since so much of our writing relies on improv. Then again, we also plan a lot and often rely on structures, so maybe... jazz/rock fusion? :D
     
  21. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Which is a form of planning, in and of itself. If it's specific outlining you're talking about then you could say the research is independent, but even that could be argued against because you wouldn't be outlining certain events in a particular order without its benefit, especially with something like the Vietnam War. One invariably impacts the other, in my opinion. But we'll have to agree to disagree.
     
  22. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, let's reallly not go to the "you're planning even if you don't realize it" thing. That's like saying I think about what the next sentence should be so AHA! I'm planning! Or in this case, I have to write out of total ignorance of a subject or I'm planning, admit it or not! But have it your way, in your mind - agree to disagree and all that malarkey...
     
  23. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    @aikoaiko @shadowwalker

    Vive la différence! :D
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2014
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  24. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Please try to remain polite towards one another. No need to ruin a perfectly good discussion with snide remarks. It should be possible to discuss semantics in a respectful manner.
     
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  25. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry if I have a short fuse when it comes to people telling me I don't know how I write.
     

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