Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Anyone who knows me or has been following this blog for a while will know I'm the ultimate pantser. I don't do outlines. I don't write in sequence. I don't write chapters. In fact, I usually write a scene from somewhere in the middle of the book first and then work both ways from there. It's a process that's always worked for me, although cobbling the various pieces together is hard work.

Now that I'm coming to the end of a long and arduous revision process, and beginning to think about the new book I'm going to write, I'm wondering if flying without a map is the best idea. Sure, as far as being creative goes, and letting the characters guide the story, it's brilliant, but in terms of how long the rewrites take, it sucks.

I've discovered that while I have a very strong idea of what the story is in my head, by the time it reaches the page, it's not quite as clear. Character and plot arcs don't appear on the page they way they appeared in my head. The logic of their decisions is muddied.

The idea of outlining terrifies me. I know it's a guide, and not set in stone, but I know myself. If I veer off the road for whatever reason, I'll beat myself up about it, and I may miss the opportunity to find gold in a scene the character demands but doesn't exist in the outline.

But at the same time, this new book is complex. There are several plot threads that need to be addressed, and I have more central characters than I've ever dealt with before. I'm a little scared to dive in without a map because I may end up with 60 000 useless words that don't tell the story I want to tell.

If you're an outliner, explain the pros and cons to me. How lenient are you on yourself if you stray from the plan? And the big one, does it actually work?


  1. Outlining is no less creative and open to improvisation than pantsing. You could pants an outline if you wished. The difference is you know certain key points ahead of time so you know where yo have to end up - but not necessarily how to get there.

    The level of detail in the outline varies but it's rarely googlemaps, it's more faded treasure map found in attic.

    All you really need to do is split the book into three sections (beginning , middle and end) and work out which key things have to happen in each and any big events you'd like to happen and roughly when. Doing this on index cards often helps as you can switch stuff around or remove it completely.

    When you write the scenes or chapters you can still completely pants them, it's just that you have a better idea of where you're starting from and where you're headed.

    And if you have a sudden flash of inspiration, just take out that card and replace it, maybe move a few others around.

    Hope that helps,
    Moody Writing

  2. I outline, but I don't suspect I do it the same way other people do. I write down a basic one page description of how the story goes - Character loses their business, character has to figure out how to rebuild it, character gets revenge on the people that took it from him, the end. Except, spread that over a page :-D

    Sometimes I'll go back and fill in more detail until I have something as long as two or three pages. And then I start writing. I have yet to follow one of these 'outlines'. But it means when I reach a point that I'm stuck in the story, I can look back at my notes and get a general idea of where I wanted it to go from that point and kind of steer it back on track, even if some of the underlying side-themes or sub-plots change.

    That's why I like Scrivener - I use the index card view and have 10 or so cards with basic concepts on them, and I build a series of scenes within each one.

  3. I already write a little note to myself, usually a paragraph or two that says what the basic story is. It's just the idea of refining that more than scares me. Especially when in this book, the ending is demanding to be written first....

  4. Outlining totally, definitely, absolutely works...at least for me (I literally just posted about this, check it out).

    Outlining doesn't hinder things, and never beat yourself up if you don't stick to the outline. A few weeks ago, I realized the end of my WIP wasn't working, so I scrapped chapters 15-25 of my outline and came up with something new (which is much much better).

    The main reason I like outlining is because I can't keep it all straight in my head. Writing it down frees up room in my brain for my characters to speak, lol.

    I give you huge props for being a pantser. E-mail me if you need any advice with where to start :)