Where Writers Get Stuck: Planning

 

by Allison Maruska

 

A subgroup of writers (myself included) proclaim they are pantsers, meaning they write by the seat of their pants with little planning beforehand. But even pantsters have to do some planning. In fact, it would be more accurate to call ourselves plantsers.

Planning is taking an initial idea and developing it into a cohesive premise that makes a story. Plot points, conflict, and characters have to be decided. You pretty much have to know the beginning, middle, and end of a story before the draft starts. The difference between planners and plantsers is how many smaller details are decided beforehand.

So why do writers get stuck here? Based on my own experience and talking with other writers, I see two primary culprits:

 

Culprit 1: The idea isn’t interesting enough to become a cohesive story.

A dog goes to space is an idea. For it to become a story, there have to be complications to overcome and a mission for the dog to achieve. As you ask questions, a story develops – why is the dog going to space? What is getting in the way? What happens if he doesn’t go to space? (Click here for more info about using questions to develop ideas).

Sometimes (more often than not, I’d say) the idea isn’t very good and wouldn’t make a very good story, so the plan stalls. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing! It allows us to focus our energy on the good plans and good stories. When writers get stuck in the planning stage, it could be because they’re gripping too tightly to an idea that isn’t so great.

The solution: Move on to a different idea and see if planning goes more smoothly.

 

Culprit 2: Implausibilities have crept into the plan.

Sometimes, planning is going great and then screeches to a halt at a specific point. This happened when I was plantsing The Fourth Descendant – I wrote a plot point that got my characters stuck in a corner and I couldn’t get them out. The problem was the plot point “took the story off the rails,” as a writing partner described it. The point was implausible and left no room for my characters to work.

The solution: Step back and talk it out. Discuss your problem plot point with a partner who isn’t so close to the project. They’ll likely see the implausibility that you can’t, and you can change the point to something that works.

 

What about you? If you’ve gotten stuck during planning or plantsing, what was the problem, and how did you solve it?

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Allison Maruska. Allison likes to post in line with her humor blog roots, but she also includes posts about teaching and writing specifically. Check out her website for more of her work.

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21 thoughts on “Where Writers Get Stuck: Planning”

  1. I am NOT a planner, I try & fail. I struggle with the very thing you mentioned in scenario #1. An idea will come and immediately I start writing, but I stop because I’m too accurate in scenarios. Meaning that I’ll come up with a drama story with a conflict but I picture myself in said situation and can’t finish the drama that would ensue- I’m judging my characters LOL. Hence, I become STUCK and off to another story I go. I’ll may have to try at least planning one time.

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  2. I’m not sure what I would call it. I plan for the details and to keep things straight, so I might have an outline or notes about specific actions or items, locations, but I have the best success when I get on the task of writing. If my planning stalls my idea – you’re right – I’m figuring the idea is not very good. I’ve also had a glimmer of an idea flesh out nicely, because I followed where it went.

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  3. This is so true. I like to write a brief outline that’s pretty much a list of chapters (scenes) to happen. No details, just prompts. If I can’t get from the start to my end I know the idea needs more thought as it’s not yet a story.

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  4. Funny thing, Today, I tried to outline the first chapter of a family saga (fictionalized). I now have many more questions than I started with. Every thing about writing is impossible. I need a writer’s group.

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  5. I am a planner in writing and in life, but my ideas are fluid, if it has to change I’m okay with that. I just like an idea of the direction things are going. Even if that idea evolves

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  6. My issue is if I “plan” it, my brain figures I’ve already written it, and I lose the inspiration to write. All three books I’ve tried to do a solid outline for are sitting half-finished.

    The five I let “flow”, I’ve completed. Yeah, the first draft sucked, but I had something to edit into a decent story.

    I’ve also learned “pantsing” that sometimes what I think is going to happen even in the next scene doesn’t. The characters are all “nope, we’re going to do this”. It’s a first draft. I let them do what they want 🙂

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  7. If you are worried about consistency or have a collection of ideas mind map your story that way you can create consistency and thread ideas together more easily.

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  8. This is my method as it has evolved through eight novels.
    I sketch out a very general outline. I start writing. At the end of each chapter, I go back to that outline and add layers of detail, both as a reference tool — I don’t want a yellow Buick in Chapter 2 to become a brown Nissan in Chapter 12 — and a way to expedite changes and adjustments on the fly. I find it a way of organizing without imposing rigidity.
    It’s entirely possible that it works only for me. It’s similar to keeping score of a baseball game. There is only one way to do it: the way that works for me.

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  9. I mix and match methods. I like to think of myself as a planner — I plan big projects for my day job, so planning a novel should be cake, right? Yeah, right — but when writing my ideas seem to flow better when I pants it. Still, at the end of the day, the pantsed 1st draft needs a lot of work to turn into a polished 2nd draft, and somewhere in between there’s a bit of actual planning that has to happen. “Oh, I liked this set of scenes I wrote, though they make no sense in that order, but perhaps if I tweak them this way and rearrange them that way…”

    Even when “totally pantsed,” as my current WIP is, I still start with a vague idea. Highly vague, though; I don’t have an ending already worked out, and the middle is working itself out as I get there. Really all I started with is a bit of concept and an image, but I intended it as an exercise in getting past a block I had with my previous more-detailed planning attempt.

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