Plan a Novel 4: Outlining and (sigh) Pantsing

There is a very, very fine line between plotters and pantsers (i.e. those who write "by the seat of their pants").* At some point, everyone has to just buckle down and make up a bunch of crap. The primary difference between these two extremes of writers is that when pantsers wing it they end up with a draft, while plotters end up with an outline.

Both of them still have a lot of work to do.

* For the record, I hate the term pantser. It reminds me of Jr. High and a desire to wear too-tight belts for "security reasons." But since I'm not a panster, and since I've never heard a better a term for them, that's the one we're rolling with.


Anyway, this is where my method starts to look like pantsing (gah, seriously, there's GOT to be a better term). I chose the idea, figured out the major plot points, fleshed it out (and worked through all the sticking points), now I'm ready to congeal my notes and outlines into Something I Can Write From.

For me, that's a chapter outline, but don't worry, the chapters come last.

I do a lot of bouncing between documents, but always revolving around my outline. Sometimes I'll jump out and write a quick doc (I think better typing random lists in a text or Word doc, but that's just me) on some aspect of world history or character backstory, or maybe a single character arc, action scene, or point of motivation. Once I've figured it out, I'll jump back into my outline, add the necessary details, and move on.

For example, in my current WIP I had to come up with a whole game to revolve a third of the plot around. I wrote a doc outlining every scene dealing with the main romance (or what passes for romance, anyway; there were only 7 mini-scenes). I brainstormed two or three docs to figure out the tactics of the climactic siege (I may have gone overboard there, it was kinda fun).

I also cheat. Technically a plotter is supposed to plan the whole thing ahead of time before they write, right? Well, I have a Word doc for those scenes I just have to get out of my head right now. I don't go into great detail with any of them. Often it reads like a crappy screenplay -- a little stage direction and a lot of dialog. Heck, sometimes the "scene" is one clever line (or what I think is clever at the time).

But writing it in its own document helps shut up my inner editor and frees me to use it or not when the time comes.

So you see, even the staunchest plotter can end up leaving gaps, writing things out of order, and making stuff up as I go. But I don't think it matters how you put together a novel, so long as you end up with a novel at the end.

What about you? Where are you on the spectrum of plotter to pantser? And what the heck can we call it other than pantsing? Please!

11 comments:

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I keep trying to call them visionists and re-visionists, but it doesn't stick. :)

And 7 mini-love-scenes!! That's a major step up (yay!). I seriously hope I get to read that someday. :)

I'm definitely a reformed pantser, verging on a hyper plotter now. But it's working for me.

Matthew MacNish said...

I've only written one novel, but I outlined it ahead of time. I didn't stick to it exactly, but pretty close.

The major changes came in revision, mostly because I had to cut so much.

Jen said...

Adam, I am a complete -- ahem -- pantser. I saw it described as "discovery writing" on someone's blog the other day, which sounds much kinder than the truth!

Heidi Windmiller said...

Seven mini-scenes for romance. At the risk of sounding sexist, that is such a cute, male thing to do. It reminds me of my husband--who, just yesterday, said something like this: "It is our anniversary this weekend, so we should go do something romantic." I guess that would be one scene. :-)

The extent to which I outline depends entirely on the project. For more contemporary stuff, I just write it out--no outline, no plan. If I am creating complex worlds or writing historical fiction, I create outlines and world building guides.

In my brain, I term pantsing "winging it"--although that isn't much better. But the term pantsing is difficult for me to say--even in my mind.

Taryn Tyler said...

Plotters and . . . chaos crusaders? Though, honestly I don't think anyone is pure one or the other. I know I never draft a book the same way twice. Some need rigorous plotting ahead of time and some just don't like to be told what to do before their ready to do it. Though I have noticed that the more detailed my ahead-of-time plots the more I deviate from them when I draft so I'm probably closer to a . . .uh, the other one that is not plotter and needs a new and better name.

Also, I like your method of "cheating". That sounds like something that would keep the muse at bay rather well while the logical part of the mind does its job.

jjdebenedictis said...

"Intuitive writers". I heard that term at a writing conference from a literary agent.

Adam Heine said...

@Heidi: In my defense, I don't write romance. I write adventure with a little romance sprinkled in. More PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN than ROMANCING THE STONE.

@Taryn: I like chaos crusaders, but I agree that nobody is on either extreme (not even me!).

@JJ: I like that. I wonder if it would stick.

Red Boot Pearl said...

I tend to have a brief outline when I start... major points that I want to happen, but not much detail, then I kind of outline as I go. As in when I finish a chapter I kind of have a list of where I want the next couple of scenes to go. I think we all just have to go with want works.

And intuitive writer is a good one, I like that :)

Matt Heppe said...

I'm a plotter/planner. When I write by the seat of my pants it almost always leads me to a dead end. Nothing more frustrating than wasting my writing time!

linda said...

Ooh, I really like brainstorming/jotting down notes in Notepad or Word docs, too! (Sometimes I also do it in Gmail.) I've started using OneNote more within the past year since I like having tabs and folders for organizing information. It's so much easier when everything is in one place and I don't have to open a ton of different documents!

Adam Heine said...

@linda: I try to consolidate my thoughts when I'm done, so I don't have too many docs open at once (totally agree with you there). I might have to try OneNote sometime though.