Article cowritten by ShadowedAcolyte and neurotype.
We've chosen to present this in bullets. The first few are ways to tell when your planning has gone too far; the rest are how to get past that.
Featured literature was chosen for its ability to present exposition: good pacing, tantalizing hints, etc.
How do I know I've planned too much?
- When you can't hold it all in your head.
- When you can't explain it without a long-winded summary.
- "So you've planned X. How will you reveal X to the reader?" If you can't immediately think of a good idea, it's probably overplanned.
Volume: how much of your story is world-building/backstory?
- Properly spaced, you could get up to 10% world into a story without ruining the book (e.g. for an epic fantasy or something else not set in a place readers will immediately recognize). The rest should be happening now.
- If the setting is much more familiar—like, Everytown, USA, it could easily be 1% backstory.
When is planning infecting my writing?
- When more space is given over to past events than current ones.
- When you need to cut off the action mid-line to explain what's really going on.
- When every scene opens with a long bit of overplanned material.
- When what you have planned isn't relevant to the story at all, and doesn't inform any decision making in the story.
- In general, bad pacing is an excellent indicator of overplanning.
18.07.12Max had waited for this moment since the day he’d been first activated. So what if the Council had subsequently determined that his model was too unstable for actual combat and repurposed them as crossing guards. Max had been created to be a hero, and no amount of reprogramming was going to stand in his way.
Granted, his first two attempts hadn’t gone exactly as planned. There was no one to actually save in the first fire he set. He made sure there were at least five in the second, but some dumb X9 model had beaten him to it and got all the credit. Not this time, though. This time had been perfect. Plenty of heartstring-tugging potential victims, the nearest X9 units experiencing temporary technical difficulties, and a news crew with a perfectly timed tip.
And it’d worked. Exactly as planned. In the end, he’d only gotten out four of the twenty, but t
Apartment 301Apartment 301
Blue smoke hung gloomily over the north side, pouring out of refineries which had nearly become obsolete not so long ago, in the good old days. Gord Bondarchuk had lived in Edmonton all his seventy-two years, and he could remember a time when fusion power was coming to save the day, when hover cars had begun to crisscross the sky, and when space planes were fast becoming the best and safest way to travel. He could not for the life of him, however, remember a time when living on any one of the little offshoots of 118th Avenue was not miserable and intimidating.
Gord sat in his ancient rocking chair—the one he kept hidden in a corner, as it had been made when quality was paramount and real living wood could be found without going to the Rocky Mountains and you never could tell when some pack of orphans would climb up your wall to snatch anything worth pawning—and stared pensively into the alleyway. Dusk had come, the billowing clouds of smoke turned a dazzling s
The Claire Witch ProjectThere are many things you can easily explain to your parents. Accidentally blowing up your uncle is not one of them.
“You are so busted, Claire,” said my sister Lindsay, eying the singed curtains and the freshly made crater in my bedroom floor. “Wait until Dad finds out you were practicing transmorph spells in your room unsupervised.”
“We can still fix this,” I replied hurriedly, switching spellbooks on my Kindle. But I’d only downloaded the basic transmorph spells and hadn’t gotten the counter-curses yet. Blast it.
“Claire, look!” Lindsay hopped off my bed and stepped towards the crater. “It worked!”
Sure enough, in the center of the ring of scorched carpet was a small green newt with a wide face like Uncle Isaac’s and bulbous eyes his exact shade of blue.
I breathed a sigh of relief. “We can change him back before Mom gets home—”
Suddenly, we heard the doors downstairs blow open and
How to use your planning:
- Space it out. Avoid at all costs an entire paragraph of backstory. Sprinkle details throughout.
- Think really really hard as to whether readers need to know something and whether there is an appropriate place to insert it.
- Why are you telling the reader this? "So you've planned X. Why should the reader care about X?"
It's OK not to explain everything!
- You can mention satellite details—like foreign nations—in passing, and if it's not relevant, it can stay a passing remark.
- Don't expect readers to remember a one-liner in the middle of a longer sequence. If it adds to the mood/etc., that's a valid reason to keep it in, but it takes a lot of energy to memorize every detail of a story.
- If everything is a confusing reference, that's bad, but you've got to pare down your description to the essentials. Make use of prior knowledge—it's okay for the distant spacefuture to have a President instead of a Zxypl'grast.
Planning is fun—sometimes too fun. It's easy to forget that you've also got to write a story, and especially if you've been developing these ideas for years, it's hard to realize that no one will ever see them. But the thing about stories is that people need incentive to read them, and that may mean relegating more trivial information to your website or an appendix.
The story comes first.