IWSG: To Plan or Not to Plan


This is my latest post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, wherein on the first Wednesday of every month we post about writing. In this month’s post, I will 1) share some untruths about fiction writing and 2) attempt to be funny.

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time on plot, character, and world development. This means setting up background info so it’s there when I need it and I’m not just making up stuff as I go along. Of course, I do make up stuff as I go along but I don’t want people to know that.

Fantasy world systems tend to be crazy complex in ways no one wants to know about, except you, the author, who wants to make it look effortless and consistent, as if you have the equivalent of three or four encyclopedias in your brain. You’re not making things up. You’re just casually referencing Volume 3, Page 307, Section A: The Everyday Habits of the Cave Trolls. Because you remember that kind of thing.

Because it is all real.

Suspension of disbelief. So important.

I can’t just research and develop a world system, beyond a certain point. I need to write the story first, because I don’t want to bore people with boring details I was bored writing. Also, I am lazy. Creating a world system I’m not going to use for a story sounds like a lot of hard work. And … a little bit crazy.

What about you? How do you set up your story? Do you have a plan? ‘Tis it nobler in the mind to make things up as you go along or to plan it all out first?

On a related note, do you ever like to think out loud, to someone you know will listen?

hamletAh, sweet voices in my head. I know them well.

25 thoughts on “IWSG: To Plan or Not to Plan

  1. I am not much of a plotter. I tend to find my characters take over, throw my plot out the window, and I wasted however long writing it. But, I do love worldbuilding. I could spend years doing that and never get round to writing the actual story. I know why every street is named what it is, every pub. I creates myths, legends, religions, current and defunct ones. I create monsters, write songs about them, nursery rhymes, fairy tales. I love it. But then….yeah, I probably am somewhat crazy.

      1. sounds like we need to form a club. All those little details make a world more real. Sure, it takes us on week to month-long tangents and we forget about the story itself for awhile, but it’s oh, so fun!

  2. I’ve tried to plot and found it painful. Not that it’s straight from the hip all the time, but a good deal is on the spot. Often, when I make up a plot, setting, or character detail on the spot, I will jot down additional notes it makes me think of, so in that way I plot a little. I don’t usually enjoy thinking aloud about my writing to someone else. I’ve seen it benefit other people, but I guess I’m happiest with it all living in my head.

    1. Thanks Shannon. It’s hard to balance, isn’t it? Sometimes it feels like putting it all in a plot form is like … yes, I have to make sense of this eventually. But sooner or later I hope it all works out.

  3. I’m currently seeking a new balance on the planning and not planning. Originally I was all pantser, but I’ve been learning to plot in the hopes of writing faster and more efficiently. Unfortunately, I’m finding it takes the fun out of the writing. So I don’t do it. 😦 I need to discover certain things about my world and characters as I go along, just like I’m reading. However, I think there are things that should be planned out. World building, government systems, technology or magic systems. Those are things that as a writer I need to understand inside and out so my characters can move around and function without thinking about them. It has to be a way of life for them.

    The tricky part is deciding what needs to be explained. I like when other authors don’t explain it. It’s just life and the context clues are enough for me to figure the important things out.

    1. Charity, I think you’re right on the mark with not explaining but somehow making it all apparent by context. It’s so hard to do though, to balance that. Thanks for the tips.

  4. I don’t exactly plot. I know certain things will happen and keep them in mind as I write. It works for me, but that might not work for everyone. When you find what works best, go for it. Best wishes.

  5. I’m not much in the way of planning, but I’m trying to be better at it so I don’t go off on a tangent and then have to delete. I don’t like it, but doing it makes me more of an expert in my story, so it feels more natural writing it.

    1. Liza, Agreed, planning things out ahead of time is one of those things that can help it feel more natural when you’re doing it as an “expert” in the subject I guess? As opposed to strict plot-outlining? It’s a struggle. Thanks for visiting.

  6. I admire you world builders like crazy. I don’t think I have enough imagination for all that. Were I to do it, I think I’d pick the real world and just change a few important details (a bit George RR Martin-like, but I’d have to learn a lot more depth in history to even do THAT) My planning generally amounts to a character map (a diagram about how they are connected), for mystery I also do a diagram of connection to the victim (with motive for murder and clue the sleuth will find), and then I make a timeline that I am very willing to alter if I figure out a better path.

  7. I am a big plotter! I have to plan out my stories from beginning to end in order to even begin. I even include conversations. I may cut out events from my plan or rearrange events, but that plan keeps me sane and focused.

  8. I think out loud all the time. It helps me work things out, I’m not sure why. The most planning I ever do is to make a map and a timeline. Otherwise, I can’t keep track of who’s supposed to be where, when. I also need the timeline to keep the history straight. Sometimes I’ll keep a list of important scenes that need to be in the story, but I don’t know exactly when those scenes will appear. Too much plotting and planning has never worked for me.

  9. So, I like Science Fiction and Fantasy, which, as you know, require vast world building. This is what I do: I write the first draft for me, so I can learn about my characters, the world they live in and all histories / issues / whatever is wrong with their universe. The first page and the last page of the draft are VASTLY different. It’s like two books smooshed together… and that’s fine. Because the first draft is the “learning draft.” Most of it will be updated/changed/edited anyway. Of course I keep a notebook with timelines / major events / historical information just for a quick reference. But of course, do whatever works for you! Good luck!

  10. The crazy world building is why I haven’t come up with a fantasy story yet. I know it would take a lot of thinking and creating. If I ever got an idea, I would dive right in, but I’d have to remind myself frequently of the world I needed to craft.

  11. My story begins with the seed of an idea: a partially-formed character has a problem with another character in an interesting setting. I start throwing more ideas at it, and it turns into a huge katamari, which later I have to sort out through revisions. I’m trying to learn how to plot without taking all the fun out of writing. As Charity said, it really does take the fun out of it, but I need to plot if I’m creating a series, so I know what I intend to do in each book and how many books there will be, etc.

    Since I always begin with a story, my world forms around that story and the world expands to fit the needs of the character or the size of the plot. I have no problem with my world expanding. In fact, sometimes that can BE the problem. I get caught up in the intricacies of the story-world, and I’ll love it so much I often have a hard time leaving it or the characters, which is why I have a tendency toward series. Right now I’m building a faerie kingdom (well, QUEENdom) that pretty much includes any interesting real life city, spooky idea, or fun concept that interests me to provide my MC with an awe-inspiring journey.

    1. Donelle that sounds like an interesting story! I tend to do the same thing, and sometimes I feel like if only all these different “real” places and concepts can co-exist in “my world” then that’s one step closer to maybe having that real in the real world. In my mind it all makes perfect sense, so why are people out there still fighting! I guess that’s why I’m kind of torn between knowing I want to write a novel (and be published, etc) and knowing what I really want to do is design these intricate world systems and see how they fit together – plot be damned. It’s so hard but there is probably some balance in there to be found. Thanks for sharing!

  12. There are some stories that didn’t start out with a thorough plan, and it’s funny that those are often the ones that are finished first. 🙂 But I do plot; I do that for longer stories since that requires much work. And, yes, I do talk to myself at times. 🙂

    Lovely to meet you! Thanks for visiting my blog!

    1. Thanks Sittie! Good to meet you, too. 🙂 And I agree, I usually have a lot more fun too, with stories where I just sat down and wrote the story and afterward look around at this bizarre world my chars are in.

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