Wednesday, April 7, 2010

You Want Me to Do What?

I will gleefully admit that for most of my writing life I have been a pantser. I’ve only recently given serious thought and any effort to exploring the joys of outlining. I blame all the pretty pictures of grids floating around my little corner of the universe.

And it’s not a pretty, easy fit for me. I think that’s because I’m a character driven writer and storyteller and plot is not my first and foremost love. So I’m finding it a little difficult to quantify my major plot threads at the beginning of the process. Plot Whisperer has a great post on plot-lines, plot writing, plot planners, and one writer’s pre-work and success story.

Has anyone converted recently to outlining from pantsing? Is that working for you? Thinking of going back? If you outline, do you know the entire plot and all the plot-lines before going into your actual writing?


  1. I think I do a little of both. Now I have a rough idea of what will happen before I begin, so I feel ready to write it without making an outline. Besides, I want the ending to be a surprise.

  2. I'm mostly a panster, but with a general direction in mind. I like to let things develop organically, which to me mostly means... I don't have all the kinks and subplots worked out yet.

    Maybe in my next piece I'll try to outline a little more. Perhaps.

    Good luck!

  3. I'm a panster by nature however since I knew after just completing my first wip that it was a sequel I thought I'd test out my skills and try and outline turns out that's so the wrong way to go for me! I can say I gave it an honest effort but in the end sometimes it's best to go with what you know and trust!

    Good Luck!

  4. I didn't before with Masquerade but I did (outline) with Remembering You. I don't know if it makes any difference because as the characters are writing the story, they change it as they go along so...

  5. I couldn't imagine outlining. Yuck. Too much effort involved. Everything is right inside my little brain, waiting for me to sit down at the computer and type it out. The only thing I write down is the characters names/connections so I don't get them confused ;-)


  6. Hi Sarahjayne. Gosh, have learnt something new – didn’t know what a pantser actually was! But now all is revealed, and I am definitely a plotter. I love plotting a story – I would say 99% of the time I know exactly where the story is headed before I write, although I do listen to my characters and if something needs to change down the line then so be it. So even though I plot, it is not definitely set in stone. So maybe I am a pantser as well… a mini-pantser. :)

  7. Maybe do both. I think outlining saves a lot of time and multipled drafts if you can do it first. I can't do this because I need a feel for the story first. So, my first draft was without an outline. Then I did an outline for the second draft and I'm finding it much easier to write. I know where I'm going with it. Maybe just try it?

  8. Born a pantser, will die a pantser. My joy in writing comes from not knowing what my damaged brain will come up with next.

  9. I definitely outline, roughly at first, making changes as I go along. But it keeps my story on track, lets me see ahead to twists and turns I can take, makes sure the pieces will all fit before I've invested many hours into it. I do find outlines, of different types, to really be a helpful tool.

  10. Right now, I'm a panster. I have not tried an outline but would not rule it out. Let me know how it works.

  11. I'm in the middle of converting right now. I never outline, though I love the idea. It's just never worked for me. But with my new story... well, the outlining is going great!! I'm a very organized person, so I'm loving the outline right now. :)

    Happy Wednesday!!

  12. Well, I know you know how not-an-outliner I am. (It really gives me claustrophobia or some weird shackled sensation.) And I will stay that way during all my first drafts. It works for me, messy at it is.
    BUT, having backed myself into so many corners with my plots, and knowing the agony of untangling my way out of the mess in multiple rewrites/drafts, I am considering trying to plot/outline for my second drafts, to make tidying them up faster. We'll see how I do with trying to be organized.
    Let me know what/how you do with plotting. I wonder if we stick with it?

  13. I start with a single idea. Brainstorm a little for the basic plot. I then work on the characterizations for the main characters. From that, I get more ideas for the plot. Eventually I outline, and more ideas come. I love outlining and working on the characterizations first. Sure, it make takes me longer before I get to work on the first draft than it does for a panster, but I have less headaches when it comes to editing. And I still allow for flexibility, because you never know where your characters might take you. :)

  14. Yes! I recently converted! The way I reconcile my love of pantsing writing and outlining is that I make the outlines SUPER vague. I hit maybe two main plot points in the beginning, middle, and end, along with how I want the book to end, and then I let myself get there.

    The one concession to detailed outlining I have is during revision. I usually end up changing so many things that I'd forget where they're all supposed to go if I didn't basically write myself a long synopsis of how I want the book to turn out (in really bad Mean Girls English of course, lol.)

  15. No outline for me-but I should probably try it and see if I have more success!

  16. Pleasure to make your acquaintance. I came via Michelle Emrath's blog. This subject is one I've thinking about for a a few days now, as I ready to embark onto my next novel. I've never done an outline, working straight off a hefty first draft, and letting characters go at it. But maybe not this time. Maybe I'll give the outline a chance.

  17. I'm a plotter, but I don't always know every aspect of my plot until I write. I know the objectives of each scene and the general actions, but sometimes little subplots and repeated images pop out without me planning them. I love to be thorough with my outlining, but I also like to be surprised with my imagination.

  18. I'm kind of both a pantster and an outliner. It depends on the work, I think. I don't think outlining and plotting has to be all about plot. I recently completely outlined my new novella, before writing it, and I discovered some amazing things about building the characters in that outline. Not just the plot. It has helped enormously with writing the book so far. I'm 11k in.

  19. I grudgingly admit that yes, I am slowly moving away from my pantser tendencies. Primarily, I'm tired of spending freaking forever editing because I didn't plot out my plot before I started writing. So, for the second book of a series, I am currently writing a synopsis first. It's more important with a series, of course, as you really have to know where the story is going, but geez, I hate feeling boxed in. Still, I am hoping that it will help cut down on revision time.

    Good luck with your own non-pantser journey. I miss being a pantser, at least during the first draft.

  20. I've been a pantser, but I'm working on being an outliner a little more. I find it helps me waste less time writing on something that won't be of any use.

  21. I am a combination of both. I did outline before I started working on my story, but I made it very general (only hitting how the story opens, the major inciting events, and the closing). I'm making up the little details of how the characters get from point a to point b and so on as I go. So far it has worked well for me.

  22. I think that a basic outline is always there, in a writer's mind, even if it's so deeply buried in the subconscious that she/he doesn't realize it.

    It's a general direction, from "here" to "there", but it's never etched in stone, IMHO.
    Because the characters tend to take their own road, on their own time, often surprising the writer with the twists and turns they take in the path.

    Sometimes I think that the writer's "control" is a myth... :-D :-D

  23. I did the opposite of what you're asking. Went from being a panster to an outliner. I did that after spending nine months writing something and then realizing I'd made my wordcount insanely high and wasn't even halfway through the book.

    So, I deleted all that, (sigh) went back and made an outline. Lo and behold, even my damn outline is too long--but at least now I can figure out which scenes to cut before I write them, which is probably a better idea! :)

    I'm Callie btw, I found your site through Kelly's blogfest. I really like it. :)

    I'm another aspiring YA writer. I saw your line of contests on the side. We're having a contest at our site. The prize is a $20.00 gift certificate to the bookstore and your first chapter critiqued. It's only going on till April 10th, but it would be cool to get a few more entries if you want to list it with the rest of your contests. All you have to do is write a paragraph to go with this sentence: Her lips burned...

    Anyway, nice "meeting" you--sorry for the crazy long post--I can't even keep my word count down in my comments. :)

  24. Hee! What Nymeria said.

    I am a pantser (great word) to a great degree. I have characters and a basic idea of what/where they're going. Often I have the end in mind. It's all the steps getting there that elude me. If I outline, it's usually after the fact, when I have to lay out all the points so that I can keep track of what's happened thus far.

    I hate outlines, because I'm basically lazy and usually clueless, but since no outlines has gotten me 350 pages worth of 3 unfinished novel-ish things, I figure my usual strategy isn't working. Thus, I will be adhering to Roz' "Nail your Novel" and see how that works out.



    WHAT exactly, is a PANTSER..???

    because in my school, if you 'pants-ed' people, it meant you were pulling their pants off.

    are you pantsing people???

    (hee hee hee)

  26. Theresa, a little bit of both sounds like a really good idea and that’s probably where I’ll end up. :)

    Amber, I still am a pantser at heart. Organic storytelling is my goal. So I’m pretty sure me and the outline will never be that tight. :)

    Jen, congrats on giving it a try and knowing when to go back to the tried and true. I think that’s gonna be me. :)

    Anne, hee! And yay!for the pantsers. You’re right. The characters are in charge anyway. :)

    Justine, I love your take on this. I’m right there with you. :)

    Jayne, I’m in awe of your ability to plot even if it’s not set in stone. And I love that term min-pantser. Maybe I’m a mini-outliner. :)

    foldingfields, outlining does save time and drafts down the line. I like your idea of doing both and I will definitely be giving it a try. Thanks.

    Christi, LMAO! Girl, you crack me up. I seriously doubt your brain is damaged. And I like it a lot. :)

    Joanne, I agree outlines are a great tool. They do save time down the line. And I’m glad yours work so well for you. I wish they worked better for me. Maybe with some practice. :)

    Christine, yay!pantsers! I will definitely let you know how it works out.

  27. Kim, hee! we’re in this together. I’m glad to hear that outlining is going well. I’m organized myself, so I’ve always wondered why outlining didn’t work for me. And happy Wednesday to you, too. :)

    Lola, I get that feeling. Good luck with the organizing and outlining. And we’ll all see if we stick to it. :)

    Stina, it sounds like you really have this down. I can see where it would cut down on the headaches of editing. Great system. :)

    Alexandra, yay! Another recent convert. And yes, vague sounds brilliant. I’ll have to remember to include more detail during revision. Great idea. :)

    Hi, Betty. Sure. Come try it with us. We can always go back. :)

    Jm, thank you and welcome. You’ll have to let me know how outlining goes for you if you give it a try. And btw, I’m following you, too, now.

    Shelley, I stand in awe of your mad outline and plotting skillz. You’re an inspiration and I’m really glad that works well for you. :)

    Glam, I really like the blended method of plotting and pantsing. That’s cool to know that you got some great character building in the outline. I’m glad it’s working so well for you. And congrats on the 11K. :)

  28. Hi, Carolina. I get why becoming an outliner would appeal to you. I think everybody would like to cut down on the horror of forever editing. I also get the boxed in feeling, but wow, it’s so cool to hear you talk about the second book of the series. Congrats to you and well done. :)

    LG, hee! Come join us on our journey.

    Melissa, the combination thing sounds great. It’s good to know it’s working well for you.

    Nym, hee! Buried is right. And you’re right about the characters and the illusion of writer’s control. :)

    Callie, thank you and welcome. Sorry to hear about the deletion. That had to hurt. It’s great that your outlining showed you what scenes had to be cut. And I’ll be happy to list your contest. I love contests. :)

    Eva, go!you! :)

    Tahereh, hee! A pantser writes by the seat of their pants as opposed to outlining. You’re right about the other meaning. That’s what it means in my school. And no, I’m not pantsing people. I’m too old for that. :)

  29. I start at the beginning and write my way through. I don't always know what's going to happen, but lots of things do (luckily). It works for me.

    I did an exercise on plotting recently (at the site I linked you to) and it was awesome. Kinda backards, since I plotted out my already written story - but it helped me find some holes. And, according to my fellow exercisers, laid out the basics of another book :)

  30. I love the term "pantser". That is so me. I can't do outlines to save my life. They feel way too limiting for me. Good luck with it, though!!

  31. First, love your new banner! So cheery :)

    I converted from pantsing to outlining a couple months back, and it worked great for that moment in my current project. I don't think I'll ever head into a new project without a plot outline. That said, I only outlined about 75% of the story before I had to start writing.

    The 75% or so that's plotted includes all the major plot points and the big climactic scene at the end. There's room for the story to grow, and since I don't know yet how some areas and characters will develop, I simply can't outline the whole 100%.

    I think it's important, for me, to do both pantsing and plotting. It's still a learning process for me :)

  32. Is it acceptable to think in terms of story board like a film maker particularly for specific sub plots?

  33. I'm a huge outliner. But surprisingly enough, no matter how detailed the outline and how well I stick to it, there are always pleasant surprises that still make the actual writing/drafting enjoyable.

    I tried pantsing on my current WIP and my brain couldn't take the pressure. I need to know where I am and where I'm going at all times. Am I a control freak? Yes, yes I am. :o)

    Sooo glad I found your blog (via Theresa Milstein), I love it!

  34. Tara, very cool that you can start and just write your way through. And that site is awesome. :) Congratulations on finding your plot holes and the lay out for your next book.

    B., hee! It is a great term, isn't it? It really is me, too. Thanks for the well wishes. We'll see how it goes. :)

    Hi, Nicole. It is green, isn't it? I know you converted just a little while ago. I've been following your journey and the Snowflake thing and I'm amazed by how well it's worked for you and how happy you've been. And yeah, we are all on a learning curve here. :)

    Paul, I don't see why not. That's actually a really great idea.

    Hi, Jackee. Thanks and welcome to a fellow control freak. :) You'd think I'd be a natural at the outlining thing. I'm glad it works for you.

  35. I'm absolutely an outliner, I think it's because I have a hard time with plot and I'm afraid if I started writing without a firm plan in hand I'd end up wandering aimlessly forever. Yes, before I start I know everything that's going to happen, how each plot line will play out, etc. Does it change along the way? Absolutely! But I make sure those changes will fit in with the rest of the plan.

  36. When I first began to write fiction, I took classes through UCLA. I was forced to outline, forced to do character profiles, forced to plan everything out in advance for my first novel. Being OCD, this made sense to me. But what happened was the book didn't want to go where I aimed it. So I kept trying to force it. After almost two years, I realized the book knew better than I. I heeded and spent another year revising it to what it should have been in the first place.

    My second novel I'm pantsing. Is it working for me? YES! As a writer, I have to be surprised by plot twists and what my characters do, or I can't translate that surprise to the page. Yes I have a one line premise and brief character sketches, but a thirty page bio is too much info. It predetermines how characters will act. I want to be surprised by them then dig into their psyches until it all makes sense. Process is an amazing thing and it's different for all of us. But *this* feels organic to me.

  37. Susan, it can definitely feel like that if you are a pantser. And things can get really crazy in the middle and in subsequent revisions. I'm glad your system is working out for you. :)

    VR, that's me exactly. I outlined in college because I had to for class. It was laborious for me and I never really felt comfortable or pleased with the process. Being OCD myself, I didn't understand why. I still don't. But after I returned to writing I went with pantsing and you're right. There's an organic feel to the storytelling. I love process. :)

  38. I have just recently started the outlining process. I hope it will pan out in the end. I at least know where I'm going with the story. And when I pants it, I usually just have a general idea and an end.