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On Planning

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As I develop my current story-line I’ve come across an interesting quandary. How much planning is too much planning.  I know many writers who just dive right into the meat of it.  They figure they’ll sort it all out later.  I can appreciate that.  It allows you to get things down on paper and let your characters drive.  You let them speak to you, and show you those extraneous details as you move along. However you leave yourself open to getting bogged down during the actual process; stuck on some detail that could have been decided on before hand.

This is where my personal taste wants to take over and plan.  I like to know the area that my characters are in. The name of the town, the street name, the mayor, and even a bit of their family history.  Those are details I feel need to have been setup ahead of time.  The reason being is that I feel this frees me up during the writing process.  Instead of coming to a point where I might need to come up with a detail only to stall. I can just look it up in my story ‘bible’, the move forward. But then the problem comes down to getting caught up in doing too much planning.  I can get caught planning forever.  Never coming to a point to actually write the book. When you’ve reached that point then it isn’t doing you any good.

Too little or too much planning both feel as if they can get you into a bit of trouble.  On one hand you can get tripped up while writing, unable to move forward.  Where the other you can spend all your time detailing things out, only to be unable to move forward.  I’m sensing a theme on both ends.

We need to find a way to move forward.



  1. beerskunk says:

    I personally do just enough plot development to provide me with the critical moments in the story. It provides me with a roadmap while driving through the unknown parts in-between, which is where the character actions take over. Consider driving a car from Atlanta to Denver. I plan a route before writing the story, but characters may take over the wheel at any moment and take unforeseen routes.

    As for character development, I know just enough about them to understand what they want in the story. Everything else I let them reveal to me along the way. Each character literally reveals pieces about their past, hobbies, likes and dislikes during the writing process. Sometimes I’ll write entire scenes just to discover my protagonist likes fudge ripple garnished with mint candy shavings. Will it end up in the story? Maybe. Gradually each character matures into a living, breathing individual.

    Characters are like children and need time and nurturing to develop into adults. Breathe some life into them to get them going; stand back and watch the miracle happen. 😉

    • Jeff Baker says:

      I can totally see the validity in that method. That is how I develop characters within the confines of a table top roleplaying game. What starts to concern me is planning their environment. How much do you put into knowing their surroundings. For instance, I want to set my next story in a made up New England town. How much time/information be enough to have a firm grasp of the location so that it feels real to the reader?

  2. beerskunk says:

    Those details evolve over time as each round of revisions deepen the world, characters, and events. Begin writing knowing the story you first write isn’t the final product. It’s a blueprint from which you’ll build.

    • Jeff Baker says:

      I suppose in a sense one could use the planning stage as a means to procrastinate. I also know myself that I can get into a great flow and then hit a point where I need a name/place and get mired by wanting needing to know as much about it as possible, heh.

  3. beerskunk says:

    With time your trust in the process will grow and the need to know everything about everything will subside.

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