1. Genghis McCann

    Genghis McCann Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2015
    Messages:
    137
    Likes Received:
    94
    Location:
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

    How much planning do you do before you write fiction?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Genghis McCann, Apr 20, 2017.

    I wrote my first novel "off the cuff", one chapter after the next with no real idea of how the story would play out until I had finished it. It was self-published on KOBO so a lot of people wouldn't really consider it written by a "writer" anyway. I look back on it and it certainly left a lot to be desired. I've been working on a sequel and some other ideas but I've been stuck for some time, with several projects started but not completed.
    Now I have an idea I'm enthusiastic about. This time I've been using "Scrivener" to plan the characters, the locations and the plot. The novel is developing in my head. I often wake at 5 or 6 am with ideas and I add it to the outline. But apart from writing notes on the main characters and the plot I haven't actually written a word of the novel yet.
    OCD is something that I've had to struggle with over the years. I tend to get obsessed over minor details, and although it has never ruled my life, I wonder if I am just avoiding writing by obsessing over the details. Nevertheless I think this is a better way for me to write a novel. I feel intuitively that I should have a good idea of the synopsis of each chapter before writing a word. But how much planning do you do before you actually start writing?
     
  2. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2016
    Messages:
    541
    Likes Received:
    647
    I keep a sketchbook in my backpack at all times. Usually for sketching, sometimes for writing.

    One day, in a burst of anger at the show I was watching at the time ending in a way that made me SUPER UPSET, I whipped out my sketchbook, wrote about a page worth of notes on how I wanted it to end instead, and wrote the following lines:

    Characters: A boy and a girl. The boy will be a magician that received his power in a way that causes him not to want to use it. The girl will be an alchemist who prefers things she can measure. They have to each have a dream that seems like it can't exist while the other does also.

    Two years later, I had a book from those words and about a page worth of notes. The first five chapters had one to two line synopses, and I knew in my brain that the main character had to crash a wedding because I think that's just the coolest thing. That was about all the planning I had.

    Now, into a second book, all the planning and thinking and notes in the world won't help me.

    I think the moral of the story is 'passion', but I'm not really sure...
     
    Genghis McCann likes this.
  3. Miscellaneous Worker

    Miscellaneous Worker Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2017
    Messages:
    59
    Likes Received:
    25
    Location:
    Where there is work...
    When I wrote my first novel, it started on notebook paper and I went three pages in before giving up. Months later I decided to return to that base I created and wrote a draft half of the final- then I was unhappy with that and finally decided to create an actual plan, being several scenes written on papers and folded into a thick stack. From that I wrote the final draft, taking about three years to finalize.

    Moral of the story, writing takes a while if you don't have a plan when you start.
     
    Genghis McCann likes this.
  4. JE Loddon

    JE Loddon Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2016
    Messages:
    207
    Likes Received:
    161
    Location:
    South-East, UK
    I sketch out an over-arching timeline, plot the main events on it. Then I fill in the gaps with other story/plot elements. Then, I list out chapters roughly 1 - 32, and give each chapter a title based around what needs to happen in that chapter. that way, when I sit down to write a chapter, I know exactly what needs to happen during that chapter, but still have the freedom to let it happen however the mood takes me.
     
    Genghis McCann likes this.
  5. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2008
    Messages:
    802
    Likes Received:
    728
    Location:
    Cave of Ice
    In most cases I have a general idea of the beginning, the ending, who the main characters are (like, the really main ones), and the central overarching conflict. Then I'll typically know a few key scenes that happen somewhere in the middle.

    For all my past novels I would plan out a chapter or two in advance and then write my way from where I left off to the major events of those chapters, making some of the stuff up as I went. For my most recent project, though, I think I'm going to try a little less planning. Just for funsies.

    So I take a hybrid approach. And any plans can change at any time if new ideas come up that I like/think will work better.
     
    Genghis McCann likes this.
  6. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2016
    Messages:
    1,338
    Likes Received:
    1,236
    Location:
    Chicago, IL.
    It took me about 18 months of planning before I started the writing process for my current project. It really depends on how dense/complex your story is I suppose.
     
    Lifeline and Simpson17866 like this.
  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    10,854
    Likes Received:
    11,669
    I generally have an idea of the rough theme I want to explore, and the main characters. That's about it.

    When I've tried to plan more than that I've found myself changing everything as I wrote, so the planning time was pretty useless.
     
    Genghis McCann likes this.
  8. Genghis McCann

    Genghis McCann Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2015
    Messages:
    137
    Likes Received:
    94
    Location:
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
    And do you actually write pieces of the novel - chapters or sketches - while you're doing this? Or do you build up the novel in your head first?
     
  9. JE Loddon

    JE Loddon Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2016
    Messages:
    207
    Likes Received:
    161
    Location:
    South-East, UK
    No, I don't tend to do that. I don't want to write things twice, and the chances of random pieces slotting flawlessly into the draft as I write it are slim.
     
    Genghis McCann likes this.
  10. Genghis McCann

    Genghis McCann Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2015
    Messages:
    137
    Likes Received:
    94
    Location:
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
    During that 18 months how are you planning the project? Is it all in your head, or are you building up a detailed description of the characters and events in notes or sketches? When you start to write out chapter I do you already know what is in the other chapters?
     
  11. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2016
    Messages:
    1,338
    Likes Received:
    1,236
    Location:
    Chicago, IL.
    The latter. My Character is meant to be an Allegory for a philosophical concept, so I spent 6 months researching that subject alone. It wasn't so much a character sketches as in 'what is her job' 'what is her favorite color' etc, but more of ideas and trying to come to understand someone who perceives the world in just a radically different way than me or you.

    I spent a year compiling scene ideas (I came up with around 300) and then condensed it down to 60. I also did a fair amount of research and created a symbolism system that repeats itself through my story, a number of themes of images that repeat themselves, and also did some research on how sound and color relate to each other.
     
    Genghis McCann likes this.
  12. Genghis McCann

    Genghis McCann Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2015
    Messages:
    137
    Likes Received:
    94
    Location:
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
    /Thanks JE. Your description sounds a lot like what I am trying to do. I know how the novel begins and ends. I know the main events on the timeline and I'm working on the MCs, their conflicts, and how they fit into the story. Haven't got round to the chapters yet, but I think the next step will be to list them out and begin a synopsis of each. It's difficult to resist the urge to start writing, but I'm beginning to think that once I do that, I will actually be limiting the possibilities for the novel. That's what I think happened with the first one. Does that make sense?
     
  13. Genghis McCann

    Genghis McCann Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2015
    Messages:
    137
    Likes Received:
    94
    Location:
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
    Thanks OJB. When you say "scene ideas" do you mean synopses or rough outlines of events that could be part of the novel? You then decide at a later date where they fit on the timeline, rather than which chapter they will actually be in?
     
  14. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2016
    Messages:
    1,338
    Likes Received:
    1,236
    Location:
    Chicago, IL.
    Okay Genghis,

    A Scene is made up of 6 parts.
    Goal:
    Conflict:
    Disaster or hollow victory:
    -
    Emotional shift:
    Dilemma:
    Decision:

    A chapter can be a sequence of scenes, 1 single scene, or half and half (writers do this to create suspense. Like when you read about a fight but the chapter ends before you know who was the victor.)

    Sometimes I know where they fit, sometimes I just like the scene, sometimes I'll put something in my opening at the end later on, and sometimes I'll just scrap the whole idea. When I outline I'll have hundreds of note cards filled out. After I have enough ideas, then I just organizing them into a story. I should note that usually after I write my first draft I'll go back and move things around one more time, having now seen them written out.
     
    Genghis McCann likes this.
  15. Genghis McCann

    Genghis McCann Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2015
    Messages:
    137
    Likes Received:
    94
    Location:
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
    That's where I am right now. What I've been finding is that writing down a synopsis of a scene rather than actually writing the whole scene seems to bring up other possibilities that lead to other scenes. A synopsis can be changed easily. A written chapter is far harder to change, and tends to limit the possibilities for the story. So I'm doing a lot more planning now before I start.
     
    xanadu likes this.
  16. JE Loddon

    JE Loddon Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2016
    Messages:
    207
    Likes Received:
    161
    Location:
    South-East, UK
    Yeah. I definitely feel that getting a plan down before you start writing is important. That's what works for me, anyway. It's helped me finish 3 novels. The problem with writing chunks before you start is that you get attached to them, and want to squeeze them in, whether they fit well or not.
     
    Genghis McCann likes this.
  17. joe sixpak

    joe sixpak Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2017
    Messages:
    294
    Likes Received:
    39
    As much as possible. Note you said planning not plotting. I plan and organise to the max.
    The outline and other guides to actually writing the story is more interative.
     
    Genghis McCann likes this.
  18. Genghis McCann

    Genghis McCann Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2015
    Messages:
    137
    Likes Received:
    94
    Location:
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
    OJB, I spent a day or two thinking about your post, googling advice on fiction writing, particularly related to scenes, and you've reminded me of something very important. That theory matters.
    There are people in every walk of life, whether it is art, chess, jazz, writing or even one's own career or profession, who seem to do things effortlessly with little or no guidance. Those are the geniuses at the top of the heap. The rest of us can potter along, but if we are to be any good, we have to learn from them. Fortunately, what they do by instinct can be broken down into component parts and taught.
    I think I'm slowly heading down the right path. Thanks for your insight.
     
    joe sixpak and Spencer1990 like this.
  19. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2016
    Messages:
    1,338
    Likes Received:
    1,236
    Location:
    Chicago, IL.
    Hello Genghis,

    I'm glad you found my post thought-provoking enough to research into it. I want to say, while I am pro-structure, -theory, & -technique, it is not because I believe A + B + C = successful novel. There is a beauty to structure in the sense that you have this rigid form that you are obeying, yet you are trying to find a new and original way to explore it; it is similar to the reason why poets write sonnets -they want to see what new and wondrous things they can create within such a fixed and rigid form, and when do create a new and original sonnet, it is often breath-taking. It takes a lot of imagination and discipline to do this, but to be honest, it is a lot of fun to see what news things/ideas you can create that fits within the structure.

    In any case, that is my views and beliefs on structure.
     
    Genghis McCann and Simpson17866 like this.
  20. Teresa Mendes

    Teresa Mendes Member

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2017
    Messages:
    76
    Likes Received:
    48
    Hey! =)

    So in my case, I'm an extreme plotter x)

    Phase 1: Brainstorming. Writing ideas on paper, all that occur to me. From character description to a theme to a plot or scene idea.

    Phase 2: Who is the villain? What's his goal? What will he do to achieve it? Who is the hero? What's his goal and the way to achieve it? Why and how is the hero stopping the villain from achieving what he wants and vice versa? What are the main plot points?

    Phase 3: A bit of world building. Place, time, culture, religion, social classes

    Phase 4: Outline. around 30 - 50 pages of writing the whole story, fast and with just telling not showing anything. Something along the lines of "MC goes to a bar and obtains the key he needs to open the chest from character Y. Mc goes to the boat to see X and opens chest, etc etc"

    Phase 5: Outlining scene by scene. I may change the outline from phase 4 a lot here. For each scene I write - location, plot advancement, character arc, symbols and themes, objective, conflict and resolution as well as a description of what happens.

    And then, I start the first draft.
     
    Genghis McCann and Simpson17866 like this.
  21. QueenOfPlants

    QueenOfPlants Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2017
    Messages:
    174
    Likes Received:
    117
    Location:
    Germany
    Welcome to the club.
    When you groan about having to read Machiavelli's "The Prince" and trying to find the exact location of the french-belgian border in the 1700s for a LOVE STORY, you know you're having a problem. :D
    But I hope, in the end I'll get rewarded with quality.


    I am still experimenting with finding the best way to write.
    Exactly BECAUSE I value a lack of inaccuracies and logical contradictions, I don't even know whether the ideas I have at the beginning will even work!
    "Surprise! The social circumstances in this time make your story highly unlikely!" or "This species is not able to live at all. Your main characters are dead." is a horror I don't want to experience.

    So, I am starting with some "Key Scenes" that come to my mind easily and that I love to explore.
    Then I start fleshing out the background world and creating the characters. I start doing research on particular questions and writing a "story bible".
    Then I write some more scenes if they come to me.
    Then I research some more, come up with more details, answer questions that arose and start with a story outline. I even might make visualizations.
    If contradictions arise, I rework some scenes.
    And so on and so on. Like a jigsaw puzzle.

    The scenes writing helps me exploring the world and having fun, and the background work helps me not writing complete rubbish and it also often inspires me. When I started reading on 18th century court fashion I found information about the importance of la toilette or about exposing nipples. This can make for new scene settings or inspire new character interactions.
    I wish I could start with outlining a story, but how can I even know at the beginning, what I'm going to write? There is just not much there that I could put into such an outline. How am I supposed to know that the solution to defeating the enemy army is an ancient mythical creature if I haven't even made up the cultural background of the world yet?
     
    Genghis McCann likes this.
  22. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2013
    Messages:
    3,414
    Likes Received:
    2,920
    I don't see the problem, that sounds more like a "get to" to me than a "have to" :cool: Did you know, for example, that Plato predicted the rise of the Internet troll?
     
    QueenOfPlants likes this.
  23. QueenOfPlants

    QueenOfPlants Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2017
    Messages:
    174
    Likes Received:
    117
    Location:
    Germany
    Lol. No, I didn't. But I suppose the Internet Troll is a descendant of the Agora Troll that graffitied its trolololol on walls.
     
  24. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2013
    Messages:
    3,414
    Likes Received:
    2,920
    The most powerful character in my Urban Fantasy WIP is a vampire mage who uses a ring of invisibility, and this isn't a Lord of the Rings rip-off because the idea goes back to Plato's story about the Ring of Gyges and how the power of anonymity is not a power that people deserve because - in Plato's mind - the only reason why people act morally is because we are held accountable by other people who know us. Once Plato's protagonist discovered a ring of invisibility in a cave, he committed all sorts of crimes that he would never have otherwise dreamt of trying.

    Today, the corrupting influence of anonymity is called the Greater Internet F***wad Theory.
     
    Genghis McCann and QueenOfPlants like this.
  25. Genghis McCann

    Genghis McCann Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2015
    Messages:
    137
    Likes Received:
    94
    Location:
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
    In one of my other lives I study jazz (keyboard). It, too, has an underlying structure, but the chords, the timing, the rhythm, the melody can all be altered, and the challenge is to do all that at the time of performance so that no two performances are ever the same. The theory is awesome and can take most of a lifetime to learn, but once you understand it you spend the rest of your life figuring out how to get around it.
    Writing seems to be the same. You can bend the theory if you know what you are doing, but without the basics the end result may not make sense.

    Lots of other good suggestions on the thread from Teresa, Queen of P and Simpson. Thanks all.
     

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice