I used to be a pantser, which is a writer who doesn't plot, who just writes "by the seat of their pants." I had tried a time or two to plot out my stories, but after a few chapters of writing, I would come up with something I liked way better and chuck the outline I had worked so hard on.
From this, I determined I wasn't an outliner and should give it up altogether. Which worked fine for a few years, but then I got published, had deadlines, and was being driven crazy by massive rewrites. I thought there has to be a better way for me to do this.
The answer crept up on me when I was putting together a book proposal for an incomplete novel. After you're published, you have the privilege (and the curse, sometimes) of being able to sell projects you haven't written yet. Editors typically want to see a few chapters and a synopsis. I wrote my chapters, filled my synopsis with a bunch of things I thought could likely happen to my character, and sent it off to my agent.
While I waited, I decided to write the book. About halfway through, I was hit with a severe head cold that knocked me out for a week. During that week, I read the entire Twilight saga, and by the time I came back to my characters I had no clue what was going on. What had I intended to happen, anyway? And where were all the hunky wolves?
I stared at the blinking cursor for a day or two before remembering, "Oh yeah! I wrote that synopsis a month ago!" Once I read over my ideas, I put the synopsis away and wrote the rest of my book.
If a little outlining was good, I decided a ton of outlining would be even better. On my next big project, I tried all kinds of charting and outlining. Which failed miserably because I was so stinking bored. I just wanted to be writing.
So I've finally grown comfortable with what I apparently am - a Plantser. I'm part plotter, part pantser. A little brainstorming and plotting can make a big difference for me and my story, but too much makes me feel a bit claustrophobic and the story suffers.
Here's the system I've settled on for now:
2. After I write a couple chapters, I find I have a much clearer idea of who my main character is and who the important people in her life are. Unless I'm writing a sequel, where I already know the characters and story world, this is a really important step for me. I'm always surprised by issues or characters who crop up in the story opening, so it's almost pointless for me to plot much before I've written the first couple chapters.
3. After my chapters, I've begun using Susan Meissner's 30 Episode Planner, which I learned about at the ACFW conference that I went to in September. (I can't find a link to it online, so I'm trying to get in contact with Susan to find out if she has a printable to share with you guys. Stay tuned.) Susan talked about how she once wrote a novel in thirty days and determined that it was because she gave her character thirty things to do. Her list is similar to Blake Snyder's beat sheet, only more in-tune to novelists. Jill Williamson was in that Susan Meissner class with me and she now uses a combo of the two. (Update: I've talked to Susan, and she's given me permission to have you guys email her requesting the 30 Episode Plot Planner. You'll find the information down in the comments section.)
|Okay, this is actually me and Jill at the class AFTER Susan Meissner's. You can tell because in this one we're taking pictures in the middle of it and at Susan's we were taking frantic notes.|
4. If I need to write a synopsis for the proposal, I do it, and then I get back to the story. If I don't need a synopsis, then I skip this. As much as I enjoy writing synopses, I don't write them for kicks.
5. When I'm writing, I mostly ignore the list I made. If I focus too much on the list, the flow of my story feels off (it starts to feel more like a checklist of events) and I get that claustrophobic feeling again. It's the pantser in me. If I have a feel for where the next scene needs to go, or if a story twist pops out at me, I go with it. And then when I hit one of those, "Okay ... now what?" kind of moments, I glance at my list.
Again, this is what I do for now. I love trying out new techniques, so we'll see what I'm using in a year.
What about you? Are you a straight pantser - no road map, just a wild adventure? A strict plotter with charts and index cards? If you're like me and in the middle, which way do you lean?