Pantser or Plotter?







It is a good idea to decide how you will prepare to write before you get going. Nothing like setting yourself up with excellent writing habits from the get-go.  You can save yourself a lot of heartache.

As I settle into steady writing, I need to make a change myself. I am going to find the middle way. I will plot out my manuscript, leaving room for some free reign.  My nature is as a pantser. Let me tell you how it worked out for me.

It didn’t.

It was like free falling from space. Ever watch those youtube videos of skydivers!? At first, they fall straight down, then veer off in one direction, maybe spin around for a while, straighten out only to veer off in another direction. Granted, they at least, knew where they intend to land. I too could see the end of my story, but I couldn’t tell you how I would arrive. As a result, and like the good ADHD woman I am, I veered off in all kinds of directions with my writing ending up in a land far far away–quite lost. When I read back what I had written I was so bummed! I realized I had taken off on a tangent that leads down a road to a different story or stories. “How do I salvage this?” I would ask myself again and again.

Remember the definition of insanity? Keep doing the same thing over again expecting a different outcome? Mmm hmmm ‘nough said.

Now you know why I need to change up how I proceed with my own writing. That is how the middle way was born into my writing life. No more writing by the seat of my pants.

Hmm, due to my ADHD I can get overly focused on the outline. Sigh. What to do? Find a combination of both or learn how to outline better for creative writing.

I am so impatient. Are you? l am the type that just wants to get to the good part. I want to dive into my writing. Dr. Phil would ask, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” It’s not, it hasn’t…I remind myself of that insanity definition again.  I just need to suck it up and outline. It can’t be that bad.

Back in my teaching days, I had to teach outlining to my students. If I taught my students how to outline, surely I can figure it out for my fiction. Remember those traditional outlines we had to learn in school?  That great big Roman numeral one followed by the thesis statement, drop down a line, indent four spaces and write the letter “a” ) followed by a supporting idea or fact, drop down/hit enter indent four spaces again and write your next supporting idea/fact? Well, in creative writing, creative non-fiction, sy-fi, etc. you can outline the very same way. The old numeral one can be the theme of your story, the drop down and indented sections can be the actions for that scene or chapter, the next one down the conflict and so on. Not bad right?

Well, the first time I tried this I got stuck after completing about three chapters. By breaking the book down into chapters, I got lost when I looked down at my outline. Um, how do I show the beginning, middle, and ending? Did I tell you I am dyslexic too? Let me tell you; that doesn’t help. However, I am determined to figure it out. I should mention being dyslexic isn’t mandatory for getting lost in your outline.

Okay here is a way to sketch out (I like that phrase as lets me know my outline is not carved in stone) a workable outline for those of you who struggle like I do. I get impatient and want to get to the writing! But, it makes the writing life much easier to have a good plan. In fact, generally speaking, there is nothing like a good plan, with backup plans, of course.

I think I have discovered a way to outline that work for me. I will sketch out the whole story. Below is fictional an example.

1. The Initial Exposition

   The story takes place in a family owned restaurant in Western MA.

a) Xavier is introduced-owner and chef.

b) Ylana is introduced-manager of the front of the house.

c) Zayle is introduced-. He is the sous chef.

2. Inciting Action

  a) Xavier is found dead in the freezer.

b) Zayle is arrested for his murder.

c) Ylania must prove Zayles innocence.

3. Rising Action    

  a) Ylania is stone-walled by the cop in charge.

b) Zayle gets moved to a maximum security prison by a paperwork mix up.

4. Climax

Ylania must fight the system to find justice for Zayle.

a) Zayle must find a way to find to Ylania and keep himself alive at the same time.

b) An old friend of Zayles turns up who just happens to have worked for the courts. 

5. Falling Action

a) Zayle discovers a childhood friend is in the cell next to his; he knows all the ins and outs of the prison system.

b) Ylania makes headway and discovers who the real murderer is.

6. Resolution

a) Ylania solves the murder; the Garde Mange Chef! did it! 

b) Through the assistance of his friend, Zayle meets with the Warden just after the Warden received a call about the screw-up.

c) Ylania and Zayle marry and buy out the restaurant.

d) All live happily ever after.    

Okay, not the greatest plot but you get the gist. Now I have sketched out the outline and write another that will break down these sections further into chapters.

If you don’t like the method above don’t worry, there are other methods. There is one called “Flashlight Outlining” because it illuminates a small but important part. For example, try writing a brief paragraph on what will happen in your first three chapters. In this way, you are flushing out a little at a time as you progress through your story.

You can use another free write to help explore your story in a bit more detail. This one allows you to ask yourself questions as you go along and add in as much detail as you like. If you are a hardcore pantser, you may want to try out this one first.

Another exercise you can do is start your writing time with a conversation with yourself. I learned this one from David Morrell, author of First Blood (which became Rambo in the film series) Every day when he sits down to write he asks him how he’s doing, how’s the writing going? If he is having trouble, he will ask himself questions that help get him going. He will ask, “What do you think would happen if…?” or How about if such and such happened?” He asks several “What if” questions which are perfect for unlocking your brain, waking up your imagination.

Try using one these techniques or some combination and let me know how it went. You can email, leave a voicemail, or leave a comment in the comment section of my blog. Let me know if I can share yours in my podcast.


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