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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
GodboxI strained to listen through the static for the voice of God.
Those moments of waiting seemed to stretch out to infinity. The heat and humidity felt stronger with each passing second, smothering me the way that the static was grinding against my nerves. I'm no stranger to heat, but I was so close to my goal now that every small inconvenience was magnified into insufferable torment. I licked my chapped lips, staring at the brassy box I'd paid so much for, wishing it would find a clear reception already.
Faintly I heard clicking noises from the rear of the device. Something in the back of my head told me that the Lock Breaker was deliberately drawing this out. Maybe he meant to extort more money from me on top of the exorbitant fees he'd already asked, now that the machine's guts were exposed to him. If a decade among the leadership of the Trader's League has taught me anything, it's that negotiations are never truly final- there's always more that can be bartered, or adjustments that ca
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.

:peace:



Planning is super awesome and we've had tips on doing it better throughout the week...but now it's time to sit down and have *that* talk.

Article cowritten by *ShadowedAcolyte and myself.

:iconcrliterature::iconprojecteducate:

Hello again. I'm going to re-pimp some contests. As a reminder, you should look at the rest of this week's posts too :P
:bulletpink: Short vs. Long - a Project Educate Story Planning Week contest!
:bulletpink: The Great Cake and pie Debate
:bulletpink: My Own Worst Enemy
Add a Comment:
 
:iconkia-jay:
Kia-Jay Featured By Owner May 30, 2014  Student Writer
Finding this was like a miracle. Thank you your advice. 
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner May 30, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Good luck.
Reply
:iconsounddrive:
Sounddrive Featured By Owner May 27, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I gotta remember this. Thanks for the advice! Very helpful.
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner May 27, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
:highfive:
Reply
:icondragoeniex:
dragoeniex Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2013
Haha. My problem is being intimidated by good planning. What if I research it wrong? What if researching takes too long and sucks out all the fun? How should I know how long this is going to be? *hyperventilates*

It's good for me to stop and realize there's such a thing as too much planning as well. It makes it less intimidating when I realize that, if it's killing the joy of the process, I'm probably over-complicating it. Thanks for this. :3
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
What do you mean by researching it wrong, though? Never heard that one before ;p

And yes, get only the information you need immediately and focus on the writing!
Reply
:iconyinblu:
yinblu Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
This helps a lot! Thank you for writing this. :thanks:
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:D
Reply
:icondejectedosprey:
DejectedOsprey Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2013
I have a tendency to WAY overplan xD
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Hopefully this helps :D
Reply
:icontruecynder:
TrueCynder Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
this might even be helpfull for all sorts of story telling
including game development

thanks alot =)
Reply
:iconxleric:
Xleric Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013
Childhoos of planning stuff through ruined. ._.
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Sorry?
Reply
:iconxleric:
Xleric Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2013
ohnvm xD
Reply
:iconmagentamorbid666:
magentamorbid666 Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013
Wow! This article came just a the right time for me. I have a tendency to over plan things and get lost in it, but this really helps make it clear when I should stop and just write! Thank you
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Glad to hear it :highfive:
Reply
:iconsubjugatedsandwich:
SubjugatedSandwich Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Unless your famous like Peter F. Hamilton and then you can just tell readers about a bunch of stuff they've never heard of or imagined every 3 paragraphs and not explain any of it until a couple hundred pages in.
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
But you're not, so no making exceptions because someone else does it :P

There's a fine balance between tantalizing and overwhelming.
Reply
:iconsubjugatedsandwich:
SubjugatedSandwich Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Hey, you don't know I'm not famous. ;P
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Fair point :eyes:
Reply
:iconkatara-alchemist:
Katara-Alchemist Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Student General Artist
The biggest problem I ever have with planning is trying to figure out what medium I want to tell my story in. :giggle: For example, my main novel project of the moment went through I think six or seven potential mediums before I settled on a novel. :lol:
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh no, haha! It's funny, because I have to know what medium I'm going with before I can plan the project. Like, I actually include length/format in planning. I know my webcomic idea wouldn't work as a story, at least not in its current form.
Reply
:iconkatara-alchemist:
Katara-Alchemist Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Student General Artist
I think it's because I'm so varied, I do a little bit of everything so I think "Hey, maybe I can tell the story this way! Or this way!? Or...maybe...um..."
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:giggle: At most I flip between length and then comic vs writing.
Reply
:iconkatara-alchemist:
Katara-Alchemist Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Student General Artist
My main novel right now started as a comic, then went to short story, then went to painting series, then went to a comic/novel hybrid thingy, then went to a series, then went to a serialization, and now it is sitting comfortably at one nice novel with maybe a short story sequel.
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh man. :O
Reply
:iconkatara-alchemist:
Katara-Alchemist Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Student General Artist
To be fair, it started when I was about ten. So it's had nearly a decade to go through all those revisions.
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Okay, that's less terrifying :P
Reply
(1 Reply)
:iconr-complex25:
R-Complex25 Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Student General Artist
Holy crap, where has this been all my life? I've spent years in developmental hell without realizing I'm overplanning everything. That goes to show you can't take just anyone's advice on writing XD. Wow I feel inspired!

*red pen is creeping into my hand* MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! TIME TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD! One paragraph at a time. *wringing hands* Excellent.
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Awesome! :iconepichighfiveplz: RED PEN WOOOOO
Reply
:iconpeteysforest:
PeteysForest Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Haha. Man, I have one story that has gone as long as 4 journals because I never want it to end. So much planning .-.
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Yeah, it's better to have a good ending :nod: If you think about shows or manga that go on for a really long time, they end up having to change a lot, which alienates the original fans anyway :B
Reply
:iconpeteysforest:
PeteysForest Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Yeah :/ Sometimes the creators can pull it off, but for the most part, it just ends up being a really long drag.
Reply
:iconladyariya:
LadyAriya Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Wow... No wonder I can't finish anything... I plan too much! This really helps, thanks!
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:D Good luck!
Reply
:iconburrito-cat:
burrito-cat Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013
Great advice. I usually don't plan when I first write my story ideas, then after I dish out a couple hundred pages per story I just go back and revise. Wherein this stage I really do just butcher my writing and make the setting, characters, plot, and backstory really fleshed out. But by the time I actually write the first draft I don't end up having a problem putting too much backstory in, because the action and dialogue is already set in stone for the most part.
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Interesting mix of methods! Haha, I used to not plan, but then I found myself deleting so much that it was just easier to have a direction at the start.

Sounds good though :highfive:
Reply
:iconmitchialia:
Mitchialia Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013
Overthinking also ruins spontaneous creativity.
Reply
:iconvelox-mortis:
Velox-Mortis Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Good advice and an excellent reminder that I should be writing right now...
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:eyes:
Reply
:iconuchuubranko:
uchuubranko Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Student General Artist
WONDERFUL! :love:
Reply
:iconkaleidoscopekirin:
KaleidoscopeKirin Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Woah. Great Advice!
...This is like a list of everything I've been doing wrong...
sigh... no wonder my short stories never get finished.
Reply
:iconlupina24:
Lupina24 Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
THIS! Good nigh this is what I need to keep reminding myself.
Reply
:iconilupinus:
iLupinus Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This is extremely helpful. :nod:
Reply
:iconithilwentheninjette:
IthilwenTheNinjette Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013
Thank you. So much. This is my main issue whenever I go to write a story. I spend more time planning than writing, and then I get distracted by things on YouTube. Perfectionism and procrastination are horrible, horrible things. :XD:
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:lol: Especially when they happen simultaneously, because perfect procrastination never ends.
Reply
:iconplease-not-last:
Please-Not-Last Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Student General Artist
And NOT over-planning is how The History of Middle-earth came about. =P

Great job! I love the article! :D
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Student Writer
Great article, but how much planning should I do for a historical novel series?
Reply
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I think it's important to differentiate between doing background research and planning for something like this--you have to be reasonably up on the social history for the area and time you're writing in. If you can find one or a couple good reference books to check details once you're ready to edit, that's not a bad place to be at the beginning. (There may also be some useful information on what people expect here.)

Annnnnyway. I would plan as much as you would for anything else. Editing is when you can take the time to really edit out the anachronisms.

That said, I don't write much historical fiction, so I would also look at what your favorite historical authors have posted about their process :)
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2013  Student Writer
I see. I'll keep that in mind (although, I don't really know any historical authors...). Thank you so much for the advice!
Reply
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