I can already hear the cheers from the pantsers and the gasps from the plotters.
While I've always considered myself more of a plotter, my to-do lists began to look like this:
I would add things to my lists just so I could have the pleasure of checking them off (especially when I didn't finish some of the larger items).
At that point, planning things is no longer helpful; it was just a tool to make me feel productive, when in fact I was wasting my time and energy. In Michael Hyatt's webinar on productivity, he called "tracking obsessively" a "deadly sin."
I couldn't help thinking as I listened to him that this applies to writing. I have tried to excessively plot my stories and even when I succeed, it's not helpful in the end. I've learned all of this the hard way, and while it's bound to be somewhat subjective, perhaps it will help you weed out some unnecessary plotting.
1 // Characters
Characters are the foundation to any story, so it's very important to have these nailed down. A plot hole dims in comparison to a character with no backstory and depth. My favorite character chart I've found so far is from Jill Williamson of Go Teen Writers. If you need something a little in-depth try this and this from Pinterest.
2 // Trajectory
Especially since I don't plot my entire story in detail anymore, I think it's important to at least know where I'm headed. That's enough for me to get started writing and see where the process of actually writing takes me. This usually takes the form of a chronological sequence of scenes that have popped into my head.
3 // Game-Changing Element
It's nice to know what your plot twist and the climax of your story are before you start writing. That way, you can do foreshadowing and properly build the story around those elements from the beginning. Writing this down longhand in a notebook is usually the best thing for me. Revise it as you come up with developments.
4 // Setting
If it's in this world, this shouldn't take a whole lot of time. Decide what era, and at least what country/state. Do some research on that environment if you need to before you get started. The goal is not to be switching things around too much in the middle of a draft because that makes editing a real pain.
While you should definitely nail down your protagonist, antagonist, and anyone else you're going to use for POV ... that's about it. The pet dog, mother-in-law, and siblings #4, 5, & 6 have to be vital to the story. As long as you know what makes them vital, there's no reason you have to plan them out any more than that from the beginning.
2 // The Entire Plot
Trust me, I've tried this. I thoroughly outlined the first half of a novel by chapter. It was a stiff and boring outline, but it helped me think through a few little details. After I got past the first chapter, I wrote without ever looking at that outline again. A bunch of bullet point scenes and conversations is enough for me now. You have to be willing to let your mind and story take their own path once you actually sit down to write.
3 // Dialogue
Again, some bullet points of issues you want to be verbally discussed in your book is probably a good idea. That way you don't forget anything. But there's no reason to form a diagram of conversations, because you're not going to follow it. It's a waste of time. You just have to be careful not to give every reply as you instead of as your character.
4 // Themes
This is kind of a halfway one. It'd probably be good to know what one of your themes is going to be. In Martin Hospitality hospitality (generosity, kindness, etc) was a decided theme before drafting. I added stronger threads of grace, forgiveness, fear, finite-ness, trust, & courage than I thought I would once I began writing.
In short, don't overdo it. It's a waste of time if you do. Just make sure you watch for the things you didn't plan, so that you can find them and continue to use them in your story as you write.
What are some things you don't plot? Are you a plotter, plantser, or pantser?? (Obviously I'm a plantser).
Also! The Martin Hospitality Kindle e-book is on sale for $0.99 HERE through March 19th!