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Planning Ahead vs The Thrill of Discovery

Banes at 12:00AM, Jan. 30, 2020

A few Newsposts from our contributors have mentioned plotting or planning vs the pantsing or ‘discovery’ approach to writing.

Plotting, which is obviously building some kind of plan or outline, is an approach many writers swear by, at least to some degree. It might be a vague plan, with a few bullet points and a roughed-out direction for the story, or it might be a complete breakdown of almost everything, including the ending, character arcs, sequel hooks, and even bits of dialogue. I've heard some writers say they can't even write unless they know the ending. Others have cautioned that starting with no plan runs the risk of hitting a dead end halfway through, leaving you with no clue where to go from there.

But I've also heard a few writers (even very accomplished ones) insist that “discovery” writing, meaning you start writing and discovery your story along the way, is the only way to go. If you figure out the whole story ahead of time, they say, what's the point of writing it?

For my part, as far as individual stories go, I've always figured out my ending first. I like to know where I'm going! I'd like to try jumping into a story and seeing what happens, but I always hesitate to do that. I worry about wasting all that time and having a story that goes nowhere. So I figure out my ending, and a few important scenes throughout, then start writing towards it.

However, I will say that while I'm outlining, and again while I'm pondering the story, and AGAIN while I'm writing, that ending will almost always change, at least a little bit. Usually a lot.

On the other hand, my series as a whole has no planned plot outline or ending. I thought of one or two possible rough endings here and there, but eventually I let go of those plans. My standalone episodes have planned endings, but the series is pretty much about the combination of characters. That's where I do my ‘discovery writing’: in the characters and their relationships.

So how far ahead did you plan your webcomics? Which parts did you plan out and which bits did you leave to figure out later? Has it worked out okay?

Have a fine day,




skyangel at 6:04AM, Jan. 31, 2020

Great post! I would never argue with anyone else as to how they should write their story as what works for one may well not work for another, but for myself I've always followed the basic advice given to me way back in school which was know your beginning, middle and end. I work to a basic skeleton every time and then add a number of events which I know will all fit with each other okay. The skeleton always changes as new ideas take the place of others on route but the two things I value most once I'm underway is that firstly I know roughly my page count (which gives me an idea of the work ahead) and secondly that a lot of my best ideas for the latter half of the story can be allowed for at an early stage. I've followed too many comics that gave up after 100 pages or so because they had 'hit a wall', others that suddenly admitted they didn't know where they were going, and the sad result is that after all that hard work they leave behind half a story. Nice to hear it works for some!

Jason Moon at 9:10PM, Jan. 30, 2020

I like to make up the story as I draw it. But it's fun to write too.

hushicho at 12:25PM, Jan. 30, 2020

I find that planning too much of a story will destroy my interest in it, because I want to see what happens too. However, I do generally have at least some idea of the resolution in mind. It's important, though, to do this depending on what the purpose of your creative output is for: if it's for mass consumption, you'd better have that down just right. In any case, it's also very important to be able to change the story as needed. I've seen too many people go with a story direction they decided long before they reach the juncture where they're conflicted. They almost always end up unhappy. So be sure to be flexible, whatever your writing approach!

marcorossi at 10:32AM, Jan. 30, 2020

I feel the need to have a clear scheme of what I'm doing. I need to divide the story in blocks so that I know where I'm going:first 20 pages, character introduction;next 20 pages, zoom on the back story of character X, and so on. Then inside these blocks, I don't plan in advance, but without the blocks I would have no idea how to go on.

bravo1102 at 8:37AM, Jan. 30, 2020

My outlines are often a stream of consciousness collection of scenes, dialogue and ideas. I usually try to sort them out into something resembling a plot. When ready, I'll open that document and write the script directly from it, adding characters and directions directly to it. The outline is converted into the script as I go along. Sometimes ideas are still typed in as bullet points to be sorted out later. Since I often have long dialogues in my outlines, it really works.

IronHorseComics at 7:50AM, Jan. 30, 2020

I have planned long, long ahead.

KAM at 6:51AM, Jan. 30, 2020

On a related note, I once had an idea that I thought would work as a play and I started wring it in play format. I quickly realized it needed too many different locations to work as a play, but I kept writing the rough draft play style. Then I rewrote in story format, keeping most of the dialogue, but focusing on descriptions. It was a much better use of my creative time and energy than a damn outline.

KAM at 6:45AM, Jan. 30, 2020

Back in high school I had a teacher who was big on the whole outlining nonsense and outlines were supposed to look one way and contain specific information, etc., etc. Trying to write the damn outline was mentally exhausting and after I'd finished I did not want to write the story. As far as my brain was concerned I was done. Looking back at it, I think the problem is that writing an outline uses the energy and enthusiasm of writing a rough draft. The difference is when I finish a rough draft the story is "mostly" complete, now I just have to go back and fix up rough spots, bad dialogue, etc. However an outline is just a boring set of details that still needs to be written.

EssayBee at 6:07AM, Jan. 30, 2020

I recently read an interview with an author, where he was talking about different plotting philosophies. The one I think fits mine is the treetop metaphor, where plotting is like looking across the top of a forest to your destination (the end of the story). The treetops are all the known "big" moments you know you'll pass, but you have no idea what you'll actually encounter until you're on the ground and actually walking through the forest.

EssayBee at 6:07AM, Jan. 30, 2020

So far, I've started with a clear sense of the ending for both of my series (and even some rough scripting), as well as numerous "big" moments (or gags, in the case of Dude in Distress). I also have fairly thorough backstories for the main cast, so I know where everyone is starting from and how their past may affect the routes they take on the way to their endings. My problem is getting to those endings. My cast has a tendency of unexpectedly taking the scenic routes along the way.

usedbooks at 4:29AM, Jan. 30, 2020

I write first drafts years in advance but my scripts are puzzle pieces. They often don't fit. Sometimes my story changes, and I have to change all my plans, put them in different orders, and/or do complete rewrites. A plan is important. Flexibility is equally important.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 1:26AM, Jan. 30, 2020

This is something that have actually been on my mind lately. For a few days back I actually found myself in a state where my enthusiasm of writing the scripts for the comic I got going now and future stories seemed to be drained. I knew, or at least had a good hunch, by now where these stories where going and how they were going to end. And that fact seemed to just take away the fun of it all for me. It felt like the "adventure" of writing had come to an end, there was no new territory for me to explore and lose myself into. What followed was me scraping the bottom of the barrel for leftover ideas for characters and their designs and coming up with a premise for something entirely new. I was taking things back to how I used to write in the past and found myself with this fun and interesting, mixed fruit compote of a story premise where I had absolutely NO clue where it was going and this exhilirated me to keep writing over all. The "unknown" is keeping my writer's essence alive.

damehelsing at 1:04AM, Jan. 30, 2020

When I was writing Scarred Eden I definitely knew the beginning and the ending. My problem was getting there. So it became kind of a "figure out what I really want" and see if it fits and what I need to do to get there. I feel like even though I had the keypoints planned, and I knew the beginning and the ending, the entire middle of the story is a discovery process. In my opinion, as you write you discover, even if you have an outline, because there is always the chance of you removing your favorite ideas or even adding things you never thought you would. Writing is just a discovery process to me. Scarred Eden is always being worked on and I'm always discovering new things about my own story. One thing I do hope to keep is the ending, however. :)

bravo1102 at 1:00AM, Jan. 30, 2020

I may have an ending in the outline but it nearly always changes when I get there. A few times I actually had multiple endings in the outline and then when I got there used something else. Often the original ending doesn't match how the story develops so I'm always ready to change it. It's only a possible ending subject to change and let's write this and find out!

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