Planning in advance...

Dearest Webfiction Friends,

I've reached the halfway point with illustrating Rema, so I wanted to start planning book 2 since it will be posted as a serial rather than as a completed novel. However... I'm incredibly nervous and doubtful of my ability to maintain quality while posting it live, so to speak!

My question to you vets is how far in advance do you plan your serials? Do you write outlines and draft a few chapters ahead of time or is it really all on the fly?

Also, what has worked best for you? Is it better when you have a few drafts under your belt before posting or do things turn out better with more spontaneity? Also in your experience how forgiving are you audiences if you revise/improve drafts as the chapters accumulate?

Just curious what your experiences have been, to anyone that wants to chime in.


Nervous For Book Two :x

P.S. I miss hanging out here, although I've always been a noob I guess. I still lurk on a daily basis even though I don't have much time for thoughtful replies. Bad Amy. :(

Hmm... I don't do well with too rigid of an outline because I feel like I'm busy connecting dots not writing for the fun of writing. I really do my best when I get to explore a character's back story, and talk about hey they are who they are doing what they do.

So for me all writing is best when it's loosely on the fly.

For Mind the Thorns I have a basic set of "McGuffins" that my heroine is going to have to collect for the main story line, but asside from that I mostly write to get to the "Reader directed choice" at the end of the chapter. However, that's a case of me writing week by week to follow what my readers vote as my top vote. In contrast, I know what the "points" are going to be for Bastion, and what kinds of vinettes I want to include. I get bogged down though when I start to really disect how my bigger plot points are going to work, though I'm not sure what kind of short cut I could use there short of resolve all conflicts during the initial outlining process but at that point I've written the book. %)

I find planning is dangerous. The slowest moments in my writing and the times when I've felt most frustrated with where the story was going have been the parts I planned out in advance. They don't feel spontaneous and I don't get excited about writing them.

I started with a few key events in mind and wrote with the idea that I'd touch on each of those events. I then aimed to write each chapter so that they would move things towards the next point I had in mind. Character development, action or answering a question the audience had. Doing one of the three, I could be sure to maintain interest. I didn't know what those events/development/action would be in advance (though I knew which ones I'd need to provide before certain points), but I let it happen as the story demanded. In general, I aimed to create at least as many problems as the characters solved, so I didn't run out of stuff to cover or stuff to do.

As of now, there's maybe two or three major events left in the story, and another two or three sub-events that are tied to those. As I get closer, I'm finally letting loose ends get tied up and the possibilities become more inevitable.

I can only speak from my own experience, which didn't seem like much until I did some math and realized I've been writing online for like 6 years now. Gee, that went by fast!

My first online novel, "No Man an Island" was almost entirely complete when I started posting it. I highly recommend this for complete stories (as opposed to ongoing serials) because then you have a structure and can easily meet your posting schedule and your audience's expectations. In a serial I would adapt that advice and have Book 1 or Arc 1 finished and then work on Book 2 as you post 1. It buys you time for editing, plot arcs, and life events.

My audience's feedback led me to create an additional 100 pages of material to flesh out the story, and they were very forgiving of the fact that I revised the beginning a half dozen times and included bonus chapters in the first half. They didn't "know" that they helped me revise the second half before they ever saw it, but the whole time I learned from our interaction how to become a better writer, for which I am grateful. That's the other advantage of writing ahead, it lets you adjust along the way without disrupting the schedule.

Now, as soon as NMAI was done I started a "serial" instead of a novel -- "The Surprising Life and Death of Diggory Franklin." I wrote it spontaneously, on the fly, and it grew and grew and grew. I find it a much more organic process, as there wasn't the pre-planning and editing that I did with NMAI. However, I plan and think and brainstorm about things all the time, it's just during the series instead of before.

The biggest problem is that I have no buffer in case of life crises -- and this year I had three, which slowed my writing to a halt. That dropped my audience to almost nothing. If you want readers, do your best to KEEP your SCHEDULE.

Luckily, I've had readers this week now that I've had regular posts the last three weeks, so sometimes audiences might be forgiving. But it's probably better for your relationship with readers to not need their forgiveness.

I had ZERO plan with Diggory and actually intended it to be a short series, maybe one or two books. It's at something like 14 now, so that didn't work out - serials on the spontaneous fly tend to grow and grow. So there's a lot of creativity in the process -- I would compare the pre-planned novel to a structured architectural work (only NMAI was experimental, so something like Frank Lloyd Wright) whereas the serial expands like a fractal -- taking on new complicated shapes from the original matrix over time.

You risk painting yourself into corners or creating plot-holes that way, but I compare new chapters with old ones that are interlinked on a constant basis so I don't lose my way. A complete arc has the advantage of knowing already where you're going, so you have a map and a compass. On the fly means you take detours and have to reorient based on the landscape, since you're making the map as you go instead of knowing it before you take the journey.

So it depends a lot on personality -- I find they're both very different stories for me, and taught me very different things. Both were worth it, for entirely different reasons.

Personally, I have a broad outline, and then I write toward big events in the story. Usually I have characters face the logical results of their actions, but it's often true that I get ideas that are better then what I was originally thinking. Typically, I'm posting the first draft.

The Points Between has some things in it that are very exactingly planned out, and a lot of the work is trying to get to those points. When I started Curveball I had about 50-60K of a preliminary rough draft written (though not in the right tense) that I'm still using, bit by bit, and adding new content to it put in groundwork for the story that continues after my old material runs out. Turns out I actually like the new material more, so that's good. Mostly I'm a pantser, but I have to say doing it on the fly makes it a lot harder to work through the problem areas. There were parts of Issue Six of Curveball I initially wanted in Issue Five, but because I couldn't work through them I had to shuffle a lot of material around and it was nice to have the pre-written stuff I could adapt to put in there.

It's hard to answer your question and provide advice without knowing a bit more about your work style and writing habits.

I'd like to hear about how your first novel came together and how you also worked on webcomics so I can figure out a better recommendation.

That said,here's a first pass at something resembling advice.

1. I'm Pro-buffer.

My first impulse is to state that serializing has its pitfalls and that for most people it's best to have a buffer. This is because you will have some points where you are wrestling greatly with "what next" or "Should I do that really" and need time to think about it.

However, the buffer isn't just about giving yourself time to think but also establishing your voice (and your character's voices). After not writing anything except for work, I had a hard time reconnecting with a style I liked until probably around 8-12 installments in. (I just noticed how much I disliked some of the early chapters when I went back to copyedit.)

2. Do not get attached to the buffer :). The buffer is a fickle friend.

That said, it is almost inevitable that you will go off the buffer and it will be scary to not have that safety net. Hopefully at that point you have enough experience at that point to believe you can tap dance your way to the next episode. Hopefully you still have your map of where you are going so you can convince everyone you still know the direction you're heading. [For me the loss of the buffer was scary, but exciting. I'm used to deadlines though and the stress sometimes actually helps me really focus.]

3. The level of outlining comes down to your ability to improvise and still sound like you know what you're doing!

The question of how far to go with writing ahead comes down to "how good /comfortable are you at improvising?" For example, what was writing the first work like? Did you need structure then? Did you need great intervals to come up with the next scene? If you are concerned about the time to come up with the next idea, then more of the buffer can help you so you don't put out work that is directionless.

4. Have a clear beginning, middle, and end in mind. (Stealing from Daring Novelist I think here.)

I do not know how I would have functioned without something telling me "this is the end of this story." That said, I've had 2-3 outlines along the way that detalied the middle and everything up to the ending. IT really wasn't a detailed one - just told me what landmarks I wanted to hit. Sometimes a chapter had nothing more than a title and a bullet per character. It was simply there to keep me from going completely off the rails.

5. Practice now.

If you can carve out the time now, I suggest writing some test openings to see what happens when you write under pressure. This might help you understand your pace of work (and guess what might be a good frequency of posting for yourself.) This won't be time wasted either as it may help you put aside a few good strong opening chapters into your buffer.

ETA: Looking at Uber's response reminds me that the stuff I wrote in buffer ... 80% of it appeared in some shape later. Some was tossed. The funniest part was I waited almost a year to use the last part of the buffer! BAH! experience is a bit different than a lot of other people's, since I originally set out just to write a story, but I wasn't quite sure at the time what I wanted to do with it. By the time I figured out I wanted to post it serially, I had quite a bit of a buffer. So, I'm definitely with SgL in being pro-buffer...especially since work picked up the moment I started posting, of course. XD

As far as planning, I have sort of a blue-sky overall idea of where things are going for the story (or at least where I think they're going to go), but it didn't occur to me until after I'd written the first arc or so that I should probably write down at least the key points I wanted to hit, or I might forget some of them (the hindsight that editing provides!). So, on the current arc I'm writing (which will probably be 20 chapters or so), I'm organized! I've written an outline capturing the major sections of the arc and what I'm planning to hit in each portion. Of course, the whole thing takes up the front of an 8 1/2" x 5" piece of notebook paper, because I find that my characters need the freedom of figuring out how they're going to hit each of those points (or not, as the case may be - they usually do, though). As far as polishing my pieces, I do my own editing, then pass it along to my editor to fix up, and then do a final edit before posting.

Hope this helps!


Super: Sci-fi/suspense/adventure, with superheroes

The first one I only planned a few episodes ahead of myself. However, I have been a story teller for a long time, so I had an idea of how it must end. (That is, I had many options, but I knew what problem had to be resolved.) I also had a very simple premise (or problem to be solved) so that no matter where my imagination took me, the story itself would be short and easy to wrap up.

The second one was already written as a rough draft. That did give me something of a break on writing it, however, there were often spots where an episode I thought was ready wasn't, and I had to adapt the pacing for the kind of serial I do on my blog. (Very short episodes twice a week.)

I'll be handling each of these differently as I move into future seasons:

For the first series, I want to try to preplan more -- mainly because I wrote myself into a corner with the first season. And it's the kind of adventure series that should continue to have novella length stories within the overall arc of the series.

The second one -- the one with a draft already written -- I will probably have a more radical change: I think it's more of an ongoing soap opera, and it's also more suited to fewer longer episodes. Also, the tone is different than that of the other things on my blog.

So I'm thinking of starting a separate blog for it. This will leave me with a hole in my blogging schedule for my regular blog, though. This could be overwhelming... or it could be exactly the kick in the pants I need.


*takes notes*

Wow this is so fascinating. It's such a unique problem to have such a short deadline on prose! But I guess people have been doing it for centuries, huh? I think it's also interesting how some of you need to plan, and others find the planning a hindrance. I guess, like SgL says, in the end it is a matter of personal preference.

Hmmm well with the first book, the moments the writing flowed best were when I had a very vague general outline and a super detailed rough-draftish outline of each individual chapter. I pasted the rough-drafty outline in color at the top of the document and just expanded on those ideas. So it was kind of like going from thumbnails to pencils in comics, followed by revisions for "inks."

I guess I could try that again but I totally agree with you SgL, knowing my life I will definitely need a buffer! I'd be happiest if I could manage a draft of the whole manuscript first, but I can also imagine pulling it off if I had every chapter outlined to the rough-drafty stage. :P

Ugh. This does little to mitigate my stage fright. The only bright side is that my audience is tiny and forgiving. Love them. <3

I'm two and a half years in, and for 85% of that time I've been writing without a buffer, often within 24 hours of when I need to post. *G* I like to live dangerously! But I am also very deadline motivated so it works, and I also have a 2,000 word a week posting schedule, which is a reasonably low bar.

I use yWriter, and the only planning I do before I start writing a chapter is the chapter structure and maybe a little blurb on what has to happen in that chapter to push the story forward. I have a bit of latitude because of the episodic nature of my serial - most chapters contain a self-contained plot ala a TV series, rather than all going towards the mytharc.

The downsides -- shoddy worldbuilding, such as lack of proper religion (it was just never relevant) and a pair of peripatetic fantasy characters who have travelled to 8 or 9 countries (and all corners of their own) and never encountered a language barrier. *facepalm* That will need to be rectified in the massive continuity edit I have promised myself when Vol III is done. That said, in terms of plot, it's fallen out OK. I've always been pretty comfortable with the direction the story is going. I back-edit a bit, but only when I've found continuity issues that need to be fixed (3 or 4 times in two years). Nobody's ever noticed. :>