Plot planning

How do you guys plan out your plot I have just been sitting down and writing a chapter at a time with a pretty broad Idea of what will happen in that chapter. Like, Main character will seek revenge. Then I write and let the story flow as I write. I also have a very broad idea of an overarching plot, but likewise, I try to develope it as I am writing each chapter. What are the risks of doing it this way, and what is the best practice in developing the plot more clearly. What do you do?

Differed between stories (for me at least).

The story I wrote ten years ago I mostly plotted in advance, even going as far as writing most of the latter parts before the middle. And then I rather obviously backtracked from there.

The story I'm writing now I just move forward with. I know how it's going to end (provided I eventually get there). Or let me rephrase that -- I've written the final epilogue. As for I'll end up there, well your guess is about as good as mine.

For short stories I usually start with the end. I don't have enough space to meander around.

I'll echo that it differs depending on what I'm writing... though not THAT much. Because I'm an incredibly linear writer. I simply cannot plan the ending (or even the middle) first, because for all I know, by the time I actually get that far, the entire thing could have changed. Now, since "Epsilon Project" is essentially written on demand with 2,000 words per week, I couldn't do it any other way. My math webcomic is the same (but without any voting feedback) because I don't have the time to plan. For the "Time Travel" though, I usually have a better sense of the plot points... early chapters have a nasty habit of being effect, with the cause being later, so more often here I find the need to retool earlier (temporally later?) parts. So there I needed more of a layout up front.

The risk in writing a chapter at a time with only a general overall arc is that you set something up, and either (a) forget about it, or (b) have nowhere to take it. You may also end up meandering more unless you have a defined point that you're trying to reach. Of course, the risk in trying to plot everything out is that you get bogged down in details and never start, or end up with something that only makes sense to you (because you know the plan) but not the readers. All this is my own opinion, of course.

I once made a very vague list of potential story ideas. We're talking maybe 3 or 5 words max, per arc. I called them minor arcs. Then there were the major arcs, which were just story ideas that would take 2 to 5 months to play out. Most of those very few ideas were more in the 2 month range. Then I thought up a couple of epic arcs, which take 6 months to a year.

It really wasn't anything fancy. Something like "Assassinating annoying celebrity" shouldn't take more than a month, if that, max. No matter the complications that may arise. A story that's more like "Mentoring a vulnerable young super" should take a couple of months. Then there's "Fighting off alien invasion". I know most people like to make that a relatively quick story, but I just don't see it ending in a simple two-parter.


I used to use outlines a lot more than I do now, and but I still find it very helpful to do a quick outline just so I have a logical step by step idea of where I'm going. If I don't do this, I can easily get lost, bored, or disenchanted with what I've written so far. I have tried serializing some writings, with just a theme or the barest idea of an ending, but usually within three chapters, I'm already out of gas, or the story starts veering way off the rails.

So, yeah, I find a little bit of outlining goes a long way. These outlines will usually be a one-sentence description of the most basic event of that chapter; however, I might also include a small scene that I want to jot up before I reach that point. I tend to be a "start to finish" writer, very rarely writing anything out of sequence, unless a particularly striking scene comes to mind. Outlines compliment this style, I find, as an outline gives me something of an itinerary to follow. It helps a lot in terms of pacing myself and letting me see "checkpoint" goals, and turns what seems like a very overwhelming piece of work into a more manageable set of smaller projects I just need to do one bit at a time.

At the same time, if I have any early misgivings about plot details (maybe there's a plot hole I didn't notice that I really need to patch up before I get started to avoid a trainwreck down the road), this can be a good "early warning system." Just make sure you don't get so caught up fixing the outline details that you never get around to the actual story. I'm just talking the big, glaring flaws here.

The important thing to note is that the outline isn't a must-do checklist, it's a guideline. Very often, I will eventually do things differently than what's on the outline. This is usually as simple as cutting out a planned chapter because I'd already covered the information I'd planned to put there, or perhaps shifting a chapter further back as I realize I shouldn't be getting to that part too soon, or maybe adding another chapter in between as I realize there's more scenes to include. (The latter is extremely rare for me, as I'm almost always cutting out sections than putting more in.) Alternately, a might realize the story is heading a different direction than the outline I had, so I may even stop and redo the outline if I feel it necessary. By this point, however, I'm usually far enough along in the story (say 70-80%) that I can usually just plow through and finish up without needing the guide.

I'm not sure how much this helps, but the end point is that, for me, an outline does wonders to keep me focused, but I also allow myself to be flexible with them if I need to.


However, I will note one bad thing I've noticed: if I plan too far ahead too early or too thoroughly, I can easily burn out early on the project. Essentially, if I go through the story in my head too well, then I've already "read it" in my mind, and I'm no longer excited about it. It's like reading a book after a friend told you the entire thing in detail; it's spoiled for you already. Except an already made book doesn't take much effort to read; in this case, I still have to write the whole book, and that takes a lot of work and concentration, when my mind is already bored and done with the idea, and my interest is already moved on to other things.

Because of this, I've sometimes written without using outlines for really short works, or for longer works, I'll write the first few chapters without them, to get a feel for the story. If I feel like I actually have something worth finishing, then I might do a slim outline to help keep me on track. If you're doing a serialized story and you want to do outlines, I'd say only outline it arc by arc. Get one arc done before outlining the next part.


"It's like reading a book after a friend told you the entire thing in detail; it's spoiled for you already."

I don't mind that. It's no different to reading a book a second time (or a third, or a fourth). Good books even reward it! You notice things that you didn't pick up before.

...I'm working from drafts that will take me to around chapter 250, and I've enough plotted out to take me well beyond that XD

I mean, yeah, generally, I don't mind spoilers. I can read something or watch something or play something someone's already told me everything about. But it still needs to be a pretty good book, movie, game, whatever. Like you said, the sort of thing you'd already read/watch/play a second time.

These days, I really don't tend to re-watch or re-read much even if I really enjoy something, unless it's super short. And I'll replay games, but usually just to kill time while listening to podcasts if I don't have something new to play.

With a story I myself am writing, I need every spark and erg I can muster just to get a sentence down. And somehow, already knowing how it all goes down just sort of gutters out a few of those sparks and makes it that much harder to get it out into the world.

Hehe, I'm kind of like Sharkerbob in that I find it hard to get the energy to write once I've imagined the story. I've already experienced it, and if I want to "read" it again, I can just imagine it again. Writing it down is really for the benefit of sharing it with others, and it takes a lot of creative energy, fussing with details and word choices.

Generally speaking, I don't start writing a story until I know the main cast of characters, the main conflict, and the resolution of that conflict. The rest is all free-flow. It gives me enough structure that I "know where I'm going", but enough mystery that I get to experience all the in-between first hand.

The main problem I've found with my style of not-planning is that I tend to write time linearly. My stories get very slice-of-life-y, and I don't skip time in the interests of advancing plot. This is somewhat okay for an episodic webserial, but I don't know if I could write a novel within a reasonable word limit. It's something I need to work on.

I tend to have chapter outlines - I actually tend to have whole book outlines, but when I sit down to write the actual chapter, I let the process be organic, so if it takes me in a new direction, I follow it. :)

I admit to being a 'pantser'. I rarely plot out ahead. At most I will have a couple of lines of what is going to happen, but until I sit down and start writing I rarely know what is about to happen. It's as much an adventure fro me as it is for any who read it.

I have a broad outline with some specific stops along the way. I don't go into detail about how I'll get to those spots, so sometimes the details are very different from what I first imagined. I always know the direction I'm going and (generally speaking) what I should be foreshadowing.

With most things I write, I have the entire story planned out. I outline everything that will (or could, in the case of interactive fiction projects) happen. Since Redwood Crossing is a poll-driven story, though, I only outline chapter-by-chapter, and keep a document of "maybe, in the future" ideas that may or may not happen.

I did a first draft of my story that took me roughly two thirds of the way through. I scrapped most of it, but the big picture ideas and milestones are still on the horizon as what I'm writing towards.

As I move on, if there's an idea or scene that comes to me later, I jot it down as something else to write towards (on a smaller scale), and I make ample note of little things I'd like to run with or that I know can reach back and grab for future events.

It's almost all completely subject to change, but having those far-off goals gives my serial a real direction. And it also keeps me from getting so bogged down in the details that I can't see the larger patterns pulling my plot one way or the other. :)