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Where DO you need Planning for your Plot?

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Aug. 11, 2018
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So there's a lot of talk and discussion on how to approach the creation of your webcomic (or novel, or short story) regarding planning out your plot, the degrees of planning out, and the option of flying by the seat of your pants.

I have done both, both in webcomic format and in novel writing. From going absolutely blank and unaware of what will come out on the page, to absolutely pre-planned and exact as to what there will be.

In this article though, I don't seek to discuss advantages and disadvantages of each method, as this has been done a lot anyway, including the newspost on DD.

What I would like to talk about is what parts of your story will require planning whether you like it or not, and which parts will be optional regarding planning, or even end up being the points where your characters will hijack your plot and run away with it.

First off, it goes without say that planning is required when we're talking about long form stories with a beginning, middle and end. Comic strips and gag strips may not need it as much, as often each strip is a stand alone scene designed to deliver a punchline.

In a long form story, you as the creator will need to decide three basic things that will be unchanged throughout the story, except where you plan to change them yourself:

1. How the hero thinks
2. How the villain thinks
3. How society around them thinks

This doesn't mean actual thoughts and nuances throughout the story. This will come after you plan. What you need to decide here is the method of logic, inference and thinking that your characters will be doing: Is your hero analytical or swayed by whim and emotion? Can they easily see through a logical error (a ruse, a trap) or will they be hard learners that learn after the fact?

How about your villain, are they the type that foresees every eventuality and plans for matching failsafes or are they arrogant to the point of not considering caveats in their plan? Are they calm and controlled or do they flog the sea when it doesn't suit their plans?

Likewise you have to decide how society thinks: what are the norms mainstream goes by? Which things are considered acceptable, what does society value the most, where is it lenient and where is it stern when it comes to judging people and personalities? Will they be lenient to the bad guy if the bad guy is super rich, because the norm of society dictates that the super rich are so due to their intellect, merit or hard work? Or will they be super stern to the bad guy exactly because he's super rich, because the norm of society dictates that the super rich must have done something morally wrong to acquire their wealth?

Once you decide these things, you're ready to plan for your story. The parts you absolutely need to plan are the following:

1. The initial setup (the starting point of the story)

2. The parts where things need to happen ‘off stage’ but will be having an impact ‘on stage’ at some point

3. The parts where things will lead to dead ends, the red herrings and the ruses of the story, along with what is really happening

4. The parts where coordination between characters is necessary OR when the story requires the characters to split up and follow their own ‘quests’ (a la LoTR)

The reason these things require planning is because you need to feel safe that you're in control of the story no matter how long it takes for you to produce the pages in which the payoff of whatever you're having gradually build up happens. Being able to pre-plan will help you see whether there's any gaping plot hole you need to remedy, what might seem a little too far fetched or what needs a bit of polishing to work out smoothly.

If you don't plan for these key points, you risk writing yourself into a corner, and nobody wants that.

If you have managed to plan for them, it's really practically optional to plan for anything else. Your characters (assuming you have created them properly) will act and react and fill out your scenes without effort.

But what happens when your characters completely highjack your story and absolutely ruin your beautiful planning?

That's what I'll discuss next time.

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anonymous?

KimLuster at 2:52PM, Aug. 11, 2018

Music analogy! You can have a full symphony, with each instrument, each part, and each note planned out from start to finish, or you can improvise, often happens in jazz and blues('In the Key of B, give me a rolling bass beat and I'll solo on top of it!") Both are planning, both have their pitfalls, and both have different skills needed to pull off (You ever hear someone wreck an improvised solo - it can be sad! But when it works, it's magic!). My stories tend to lean more to the latter. I have the basic plot sorta laid out, and know where I want get to, but when I'm on page 2, I have no idea what's going to happen on page 8!

usedbooks at 8:11AM, Aug. 11, 2018

I usually start a Used Books story arc with a list of plot advancement objectives. Any arc should create some kind of change in the world or the characters or both. (For example, with my last arc, the objectives were: ~Reveal Ashley's identity. ~Introduce Captain Jack. ~Develop Kaida as a greater threat to the syndicate.) After I establish those, if I get stuck in my writing, I can tear it all down and refocus on the objectives. If some entirely different thing would fulfill the end goal, I can try that instead. -- And the arc objectives should contribute to the overall series objectives (which I have a mental list of but should probably write down).

Banes at 7:19AM, Aug. 11, 2018

I always go much better the more solid I am with my story's ending. Otherwise I flail around messily. That's okay for a shorter story where rewriting is more doable - but honestly, even then I don't like going ahead with no idea of the ending. Like mks_monsters said, I tend to get partway in and hit a wall when I do it that way. Great stuff!

mks_monsters at 5:52AM, Aug. 11, 2018

In my experience, you always need a plan or else you never finish because you get writer's block. You need to know where you want things to go or else, you'll get lost.

usedbooks at 4:22AM, Aug. 11, 2018

I might overplan a touch. Big picture stuff is easy, but the details... I get hung up on a single plot point and it puts writing on hold for MONTHS. The solution is usually in being able to step outside the work and ask "why is this happening at all?" Go back a few steps and remove the entire reason for the scenario. Accomplish it from an entirely different angle. It's hard to completely toss out an entire script after many drafts and after it feels so canon, but if it's frozen, you sometimes have to scrap it. Overplanning can be a curse. You end up working with redrafts and knowing all the parallel universes that almost were but couldn't be. On the other hand, without thinking ahead, you could end up getting stuck and having to build contrived deus ex machina.

bravo1102 at 3:48AM, Aug. 11, 2018

And you know whole HUGE EPICS have been written from a plan that barely fills one side of a sticky note. Short stories can use detailed outlines that often just require the addition of some articles and adjectives to complete the narrative. A description of a four panel action sequence can take up several pages in the script with who does what to whom and how.

bravo1102 at 3:44AM, Aug. 11, 2018

Proper planning prevents piss-poor performance. (The saying "no plan survives contact with the enemy" is misleading because proper planning allows for all the contingencies of first contact.) Now what does that have to do with planning a story? Everything. Mission statement defines the core of what your plan is supposed to accomplish and includes the first three bits here. A journalist could break it down into "who, what, where" Then you get into the "how" with set-up and somewhere in there should be the "why" When you put together the "who" they should have motivations for what they do; that's the why. Then there's resources: what is required for this to proceed? Not pencil and paper, but what the protagonist and antagonist possess or will need to get to meet their objectives. Did I forget to mention objective? That's in the mission statement. What do you intend to achieve. What do your characters want to achieve. That cycles back into motivation.


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