ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

#InsecureWritersSupportGroup - Are you a Pantser or Plotter? Ideas for outlining your novel.

Hello fellow bloggers!

There are so many terms tossed around in the writing world and today I'm going to attempt to make two clearer -- PANTSER and PLOTTER. Even if we've heard these two descriptions many, many times, they still warrant a closer look. The first time I heard these words was at a creative writing course run by Australian regency romance author, Anna Campbell, just after she'd broken into the big time through Avon Publishing. Luckily, other novice writers must have looked blank, so Anna then explained the terms to us.

At the time of the workshop above, I was definitely a pantser. I, er, didn't know there was any other way to write a novel. I've learned a lot in the ensuing years, but I confess pantsing holds a place dear to my heart. However, I've come to realise that's why I have four unfinished novels. Whether they are over 50,000 words or whatever, my lack of planning means I have to go back again and again and see what I can do to up the ante, up the stakes, fix plot holes...and this may/may not be successful. These novels may well have been published by now if I had spent more time planning and less time writing sucky first drafts. But pantsing is SO FUN!!

Okay, Insecure Writers, what do we do when we get that story idea? (All you clever plotters can leave a comment telling me how foolish I am, then move on to a more scintillating post!)

THE PROCESS...

THE WONDERFUL STORY IDEA (and I've had more than a few...)...then...

IF YOU’RE A PANTSER, THERE’S NO HOLDING YOU BACK – you jump right into your first draft. You many pause to consider your wonderful, likeable characters, have a hazy idea of the plot which will of course equal Stephen King's, decide on your setting - preferably somewhere exotic that you can google – then, kapow, start writing that novel! (It can be done in a month according to NaNoWriMo, or even less in some other novel-writing blitzes! Our local writers' centre offers a novel in a weekend fun-packed writefest). Bit like an enthusiastic carpenter grabbing a few bits of timber and hammering away with a vague idea of the house design. Well, the carpenter may end up with a great looking house eventually, but it might fall down a few times during the process...or it could collapse completely, leaving the carpenter with some raw materials to begin another house...or he/she might walk away from the building business as it's too hard.

  
One of the reasons writers favour pantsing is that we/they are afraid outlining will stifle our/my creativity. Over time I have been moving towards plotting (thank God all you clever plotters say if you're still with me!) as plotting requires intense creativity which will be invaluable when writing that first draft.

YES! IF YOU’RE A PLOTTER, YOU’LL OUTLINE FIRST – but - complications already - what sort of outline? Like most things, there are several possibilities, but luckily, there should be one to suit all of us!

A great book!
1.      You may write an outline in longhand in ruled notebooks – linear style. This is often the best way to solve convoluted problems as they arise! It’s amazing what pops up when you start writing, sort of like freewriting, and it unleases the powerful tool of the subconscious. It is good to distance yourself from the computer which leads to editing/tweaking before your thoughts are fully formed. Caveman technology (thanks K.M. Weiland for this term) can be amazingly freeing for our muses. Bonus - it keeps you unplugged from the temptations of the internet.

2.       Not a fan of the linear method? You may prefer mind maps which help look at potential problems spatially rather than linearly. Write your central theme/event at the centre of the page, then surround it with clusters of related subjects – then those subjects will develop subjects of their own. You should end up with an exhaustive list of possibilities for your story. Don’t censor – write down everything and who knows what you may come up with? This method helps to break blocks as it taps into both your subconscious and visual mind.

3.       You may construct your outline on the computer, using (most commonly) Word, or clever programs for clever people like Scrivener or the simpler yWriter.

4.       You may construct your outline on a spreadsheet – many writers swear by the versility of this.

5.       You may use note cards which are easy to shuffle around and keep tidily in a box.

6.       Other…???

Some writers fall neatly or messily between the two extremes. Where do you place yourself on the Pantser...Plotter continiuum?

Source

  • So...do you agree with me? Do you have a strong opinion either way - pantser or plotter?
  • Have you developed a tried and true outlining method over time?
  • Any advice to dyed-in-the-wool pantsers?
  • And...did you notice my sign up in the top right sidebar here for Write...Edit...Publish's new monthly bloghop? Thanks to all of you who have signed up already! Pop over to WEP, have a look and consider signing up for August 21's post on the VACATION theme. So many new options...

LIFESTYLE TIP: I've just read that sucking on water bottles gives us wrinkles around our mouth like a smoker's! Advice: Start drinking from a cup or relax the top lip when sipping from your water bottle. 

This post is for Alex J Cavanaugh's IWSG. Click the badge to read more posts.
Thank you to all the hosts!




50 comments:

  1. I'm a plotter, Denise, and I like to consider it a road map. In the draft stage,it does save me time and works with well with my penchant for writing scenes first and narrative after.

    Excellent post.

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  2. Like D.G., I need a road map to write ... although a novel often springs to my mind with the opening sequence. But then I ask myself where this will add lead? With a firm destination in mind, I can wing it often with a solid start and a known end. :-) Interesting post as always, Roland

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    1. I wrote the end of my latest novel first and this helped.

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  3. You know how you go on dates with different people when you're in the dating pool, and they are all exactly the same, only different. For instance, they were all female for me, and they all had a two eyes, two arms and two legs and some other good pairs of things, but they were still all completely different.

    Novel-writing is like that, for me at least. No two have been the same, not in draft or revision or concept. A couple flowed like water. Some were muddy rides uphill pushing a lame horse behind a broken cart. I used a spreadsheet on a couple, notes on some, did two months' of research or just sat down and went to typing. I tend toward the pantser side, which I prefer to call ~stream of consciousness~, because I am not a fan of books written against a strict outline. I don't read them, and I don't want to write them.

    In my opinion, the ~only~ thing that matters is that you FINISH. How you get there is absolutely irrelevant, because readers and publishers really don't care about that part. They only want that final draft.

    Keep at it, and even if you're chopping down a redwood with a pocketknife, if you keep hacking long enough I promise that sucker will fall. Maybe right on top of you. ;)


    - Eric

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    1. This was so entertaining until that redwood fell on me Eric!

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  4. I'm in the middle of outlining at the moment. I used to be a pantser all the way and romanticised it as well, calling on the 'creativity' card as an excuse not to try outlining. But like you, I found I had to do SO MANY major rewrites. So I tried outling...and instantly fell in love.

    I write a vague outline first--and write wherever it takes me. IF the story as a whole sounds good, then I start to write a more detailed outline to spack fill the plot holes or any missing structural bits. (it gets messy and I gain heaps more ideas and have to insert them. I have arrows and notes and a mess that only I could understand)

    If it's still holding together, then I start to write an even more detailed outline. It's kinda the first draft, only without the pretty writing. It's the bare bones, but it's the novel. It's what matters most.

    So in a way I'm both a pantser (the outline) and a plotter (the outline! lol). Oh and I handwrite it with the use of a notebook, post-it notes, and a whiteboard for both plotting and brainstorming.

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    1. Your method sounds very Lynda. I keep putting bare bones outlines around too but really need to write to discover many things.

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  6. I'm a confirmed plotter for many years now. It's the only way to fly.

    Jai

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  7. Oh golly I admitt I'm a pantser! I might make a few mind maps or notes but I usually like to dive in and get going even if that means stopping later on to do a bit of plotting! Strange really because in just about every other area of my life I'm a true plotter and will plan things to the last detail. I'll blame my pantsing on my creative side!

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    1. I guess the true plotters are shaking their heads but whatever works!

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  8. I've learned from bitter experience - far too many re-writes and muddles - that I must plot and plot again, Denise.

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    1. I think you may be right Carole Anne.

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  9. The balancing act for me is between getting enough plotting that I know the story will hang together without creating that feeling for me that I'm just rewriting something I've done before, which I often get if I overdo things. I'm currently a fan of moving from a synopsis/outline to individual scenes that I can break down and change as I wish.

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    1. Thanks Stu. I can see how the method might change over time.

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  10. I do a bit of both, the idea comes, I start writing to see where it takes me and then create an outline when it all becomes clear. But putting it on paper and then walking away always brings me back with better insight and more plot options. I do keep detailed time lines, but always create a tentative outline to see where the storyline might take me, but in the end it's the characters that lead the story, and I just follow.

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    1. I like the last bit - it's the characters who lead the story...

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  11. I could never wing it. I am a planner in all things I do. And it's all free style. I write out the basic plot on paper and then keep adding and revising, filling in details. When I'm to the point it feels like I am writing the story, I begin.

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  12. I'm definitely a plotter. I have tried going with an idea and vague notion before, but then I get stuck after a chapter or two. I tend toward a brief scene/chapter outline with key points and then I fill in the information as I write the first draft.

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  13. Oh, I don't approve of pants! *cough* But I'm not a full outliner. How I go about planning depends on the genre--I always do a timeline with several main events. But if I'm writing a mystery, I will often diagram all the players first so I can figure out the best order to sprinkle those things in.

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  14. Plotting or pantsing, the story needs to be filled on the page first. It has to come out of your imagination, and on the page.

    Both ways work.

    Nas

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  15. It helps me to know the ending of a story, one i find interesting. Having something to word towards is a big help.

    mood

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  16. I would not have said I was a pantser before I began. I had an outline, or at least my version of one. But now that I'm on my third complete rewrite, I realize that I was not enough of a planner. I've come to the same realization as you have, and my next book will benefit from a more planned approach.

    Great IWSG posting!

    Kim Lajevardi
    (This Writer's Growing)

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  17. Plotter. Definitely. In fact, the projects I'm working on, except my newest one, have stewed in my brainpan for years. Changing, morphing, growing, and becoming more solid.

    Of course, they still change when I'm writing. And I've found writing in longhand to be WONDERFUL.

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  18. I would love to be a plotter *sigh* but it really doesn't seem to work with my brain. I guess I have a teeny bit of a plot before I start because I generally know the final scene before I start as that's often the first idea I get. Then I envision the opening scene and off I go. I'm trying though!

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  19. You know me, I plot my plots. I need a plan to follow. I've tried writing without a plan and I just end up with such a mess I don't want to edit it! Mind you, I've never actually stuck to a plot plan yet.

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  20. I first heard pantser and plotter on the A-Z challenge. I can't recall whose blog it was on. I had no idea what the meaning was before I read about it.

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  21. well, you caught me with my pants down! ha! i am one that despises an outline for sure!

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  22. I'm a panster, but once I get that story plot moving along, I have to plot out a few things to keep me on track. My writing has changed drastically from the early days. Growth is good :)

    .........dhole

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  23. Great post, Denise! I am definitely a Pantser for the first draft. In fact, I was relieved to find that largely speaking, so is Stephen King! Okay, I more or less know where I'm going to start and finish, and I know there has to be tension, a climax and a resolution, but mostly, they work themselves out. I do all the tidying up in the second draft! To get a book finished, I work on the basis of 'don't get it right, get it written'. Since I'm not a best seller, I guess I might not have ever got it right..haha, but never mind, I love writing and I've managed to finish four books. Time will tell whether I should have done it another way!

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    1. Love that 'don't get it right, get it finished.'

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  24. For me it completely depends on the book. I have been known to outline on one and then on another novel I took the pantser approach because I had no idea how to outline or predict what was going to happen. I guess that is why I have a few unfinished novels myself. Great post, thank you for clearing it all up for me. Thank you so much for your kind comment on my blog and for following. I am truly thankful.

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  25. I'm a total pantser. Important plot points hit me when I least expect it. If I tried to plot, I'm sure I'd take much longer. My writing tends to be character-led, so that might be why - you can't plot if you don't know the characters.

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  26. I work from an outline. It's chapter by chapter, not scene by scene, and sometimes I get stuck, but it makes drafting so much easier. I've tried pantsing and can't do it.

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  27. Do a vague outline and then just go go go, if it changes so be it.

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  28. LOL... LOVE your last tip, Denise... I'm still laughing about... Sucking on water bottles will cause wrinkles around the mouth... Check!

    If you haven't guessed by NOW... I am with you. A DIE HARD PANTSER... I've ALWAYS hated outlining, even in school. It's just to tense. HOWEVER... like you, after a ZILLION and one re-writes, I may have to do a bit of planning before hand. It will take me some time though. Tough habits are hard to break, especially at my age. LOL.

    I like the idea of penning by hand in a lined book. I certainly can envision myself in the park on a sunny day just scribbling away. I have an idea for a new m/g series that I may approach this way. Who knows... I may LOVE IT! I also like the idea of getting away from the computer. IT does TERRIBLE things to the waistline. LOL!

    Looking forward to the challenge in a few weeks. Ideas are brewing through my coffee induced head. LOL.

    Have a WONDERFUL weekend!!!!

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  29. Hey, Denise,
    I used to be a pantser until I realized how much time it saves if I have even a loose idea of where I'm going with a storyline. I like mind maps and do it by hand to put down ideas. Now I'm using bubbl.us to outline my next novel.

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  30. I plotted out my first novel, and it was a contrived mess. Now I mostly pants it. I do love discovering the story as I write. But I never start a novel without knowing where I need to end up. That way lies madness. If I at least know how I want it to end, it keeps me from going off on all the little rabbit trails that present themselves to me as I make stuff up. Truly, though, the thing that often determines the direction of my story is my character's actions/reactions and also the research. I'll sometimes discover the coolest fact while doing research and MUST work it into the novel. I love that!

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  31. The short stories I wrote when I was younger were all pantsed. Once I started outlining, I found I could write longer stories, which eventually led to novels.

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  32. Most of what I write falls in between the two. My work is usually character driven, so I invent the character first & usually write a few pages to get a feel for Voice. I always know where I'm heading, but my points along the way might be orderly or just vaguely jotted on a napkin somewhere. Since much of my writing is historical fiction, the actual facts are guideposts that keep me from straying too far afield. Thanks for this post.

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  33. Hi Denise! I'm a total plotter. But I allow the story to take on a mind of its own within chapters and scenes, that way I dont force anything. However, my outline keeps me on track and helps shape the goals and conflicts. :)

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    1. My outlines at this stage are very vague, hand written in notebooks. But at least I'm getting there!

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  34. I just write whatever comes into my head and pass it off as poetry :) I guess that makes me a pantser through and through.

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  35. Good question. I think plotting is important, ultimately as novels require a certain structure. I also think those who don't have a plotting mind tend to go down the pantser route, which yes provides creativity, but can lead to problems structuring the story.

    I think free writing and nanowriting is excellent for learning to write 'on demand' and regularly. :O)

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  36. I used to be pure pantser, but now I'm a bit of a hybrid. I just have to make sure not to OVER-PLAN, or else I will end up killing my inspiration and motivation very early on.

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  37. I've landed in frustrating pitfalls with both methods, so I hover in between. I'll usually have a vague outline of plot points, then pants my way from one mile marker to the next.

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