I’ll be perfectly honest, I don’t plan all my work equally.
For one thing, flash fiction and 500-chapter fan fictions just don’t require the same amount of planning. They can’t. It would be absurd to use the same method for both.
Short stories often involve little to no planning. Seeing as short stories can range from a couple hundred words to twenty manuscript pages, there’s not really a set method for writing a good one, anyway. Mine tend to be on the shorter side, from 1k to 4k words, and often between 1,000 and 1,500. Some would say that nearly all my short stories classify as flash fiction, and maybe they do, but those boundaries are so fuzzy that every time you look at a new place to send a piece you’re looking at different qualifications. I don’t think too much about writing short fiction. It just happens, and I think about it when I’m going over it later, picking it apart, putting it back together, applying Natalie’s wonderful edits.
Novella’s typically have a small cast of characters, so I don’t bother too much with character outlines of any kind. I do a basic, this is how they’re related to the others, paragraph and then get straight to outlining the story. A twenty-or-so chapter outline with very basic guidelines suffices for this, since my chapters are about half the length of my typical novel chapters. Then I write. They’re short work, so again, too much fore-planning spoils the whole thing.
Novels are much more work, and series even more than that. The amount of characters to keep track of can be exhausting, confusing, and time-consuming, not to mention if you’re world-building, locations, jargon, etc. I keep very specific character notes, and a minimal of general notes on everything else. I do extensive outlines. I often times add even more. For example, I’m doing research on military procedure for my novel To the Death. Even after the initial excitement wears off and the fun comes in and out, I just have to think about how much better my work will be for all the research and it keeps me plugging on.
Fan fiction is very similar. When I do oneshots, I usually have a vague idea of what I’m going to say before I sit down and write, if only the pairing, a situation, or an era. Two of three is ideal. I have to have some idea of what I’m going to say, because even if I don’t have any of these three things, I at least know I’m writing fan fiction, and the fandom, and that’s direction in and of itself.
For longer stories, I always list characters. I always write the summary in advance, decide the pairings (sometimes I change them later), and do a full outline. The few times I haven’t, I get easily confused. I’ve got hundreds of stories either finished, in progress, or in planning. I have to keep good notes. When I finish the outline, I start writing.
This gets, of course, complicated by my series works. Two or three stories, not so much, but my six-gen, for example, or my massive series of Hunger Games stories, require intensive planning and extensive notes. Each has a binder dedicated to character profiles, extensive outlines, notes, and even scenes already written. It’s the sort of thing where you need to know where you’re going when you start, or you’ll get lost along the way and forget the beginning by the time you reach the end. Even with my increasing piles of notes it can be difficult to keep track, so I reread my posted chapters regularly to keep my mind fresh on what I’ve done and said.
It’s important to keep ample notes, make outlines where appropriate, and never underestimate the value of meticulous planning. I’ve done it in the past, and I always end up regretting it.
Go forth and plan!