A Pantsers Guide to Plotting?


Pantsing v: To write by the seat of your pants.

The blank page, your cursor blinks judgingly at you as you stare into the white abyss. For some, facing the blank page is the most daunting part of writing a novel. For me, it’s a new adventure, the story can go anywhere, and as a pantser, it probably will. The pantsing method is a simple one, an outline, if one should exist comprises as little information as possible, you have a general idea of overall plot of the story and where you want to go, and maybe some things about characters, but the vast majority of what’s going to happen is a mystery. It’s exciting and you learn things as you go along much like your reader would. But the pantsing method isn’t without its drawbacks. Because you often don’t really know where the story is going to go, there’s a risk the story can go off the rails, (or rather, more off the rails). When you’re writing a series (as I am) its difficult to write a novel without knowing how everything is going to fit together in the overarching story and ultimately where the hell this thing is going.

Over the years I’ve tried many tricks for becoming a more organized writers, from multicolor pens, pencils, and highlighters to a series of notebooks, and software programs, to a sticky whiteboard attached to my desk that allows me to write a dry erase timeline of my story that my cats can lay on and erase. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

This month however with NaNoWriMo once again drawing near, I feel it imperative to work on not only an outline for my next novel, but the overarching outline that will encompass the entire series as well as each individual book. For this I purchased a five subject notebook which will house information for each book allowing me to see where I’ve been, and where everything fits in. For instance, if something in book one is going to be foreshadowing for an event in another book, I’ll have a note that will reference me to my notes for that book. This sounds a bit complicated, and I’m sure doing this all with Scrivener would be a lot easier, but the truth is, I have to start from a hard copy. I may transfer my notes to a Scrivener file to make it easier before actually writing, but there’s something about outlining in hardcopy that I just can’t seem to pass up.

So, where do we begin?

  1. Book One: Start by outlining the book you’re already on, I’ve looked at a few different outlining methods including the Snowflake method (which at this point is one of my favorites) but my method is more madness than method, and it combines a few methodologies into one. The first of which being…
    • Outline: In a wonderful post (actually about editing, Chuck Wendig) suggested that you should write an outline after the first draft is written. I generally like to do a chapter by chapter outline, just a few sentences to get the overall plot and important event notes. Then you write an outline of where you think the story needs to go from here, what changes are needed etc, and you go by that. After the final draft is done you’ll want another chapter by chapter outline to give you an idea of everything that happened so you can work on the next book.
    • Snowflake: The Snowflake method is a multi-step method for outlining that begins with a one sentence summary and turns into a multi-page outline of major scenes, plots, and character arcs. If you’ve written nothing of your first book you’ll want to start with the Snowflake (or similar method) to outline your novel.
  2. Book Two-End of Series: Once you have a foundational set of characters and settings, you can use the snowflake and chapter by chapter methods to allow you to figure out where the story is going, where it needs to go and ultimately how you should get there.

There are numerous outlining methods, this is by no means an exhaustive list, and frankly how you outline depends entirely on what works for you, but as a pantser who wants just a little more structure for the rest of my series, I’m going to do my best to keep up with my outline and make sure everything goes according to plan.

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