Let’s just begin by putting this out there: I love outlining. I work as a tutor and some of the first things that I tell people who need study tips are MAKE OUTLINES! OUTLINE YOUR NOTES! OUTLINE YOUR LIFE! OUTLINES FOR EVERYONE!!
So now that that’s out in the open, I guess it’s safe to say that when it comes to writing, I’m totally a plotter. I can sit on an idea for weeks (if we’re being conservative) just planning out who the characters are, certain scenes, etc. I can’t even begin writing until I have at least a few scenes in my head. I like having some kind of outline of events for my novel.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I plan and plot in a nice, neat order. Take a look at the image to the right. Most of the time, this is how I do my outlining. I’ll get an idea for about three-fourths of the way through and have that scene totally worked out. And then I’ll come up with a beginning. And then the ending. And then something right around the middle. And when I’ve come up with several scenes that are spread randomly throughout the novel, I finally begin to write.
When I plot and write like this, I realize that I have a tiny bit of pantser in me. Looking back at the image above, when I get to the inevitable Point of Question Marks between Idea Number 2 and Idea Number 4, I try to just wing it. So the lead just got transported back in time, but she hasn’t reached the scene where she is tried for witchcraft? Well maybe she could meet a bushy-bearded man named James Garfield?
Because of my plotting nature, this point, the Point of Question Marks, can become the Moment Where I Experience
Writer’s Block that thing where I can’t come up with any more ideas.
|This is just one of the little notebooks I do my plotting in|
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.
This isn’t always the case; sometimes I come up with the best ideas off the top of my head. That’s why I don’t see myself as a strict plotter. I don’t plot out the whole novel; I come up with various scenes throughout the novel and then fill in as I go. Yeah, sometimes I get stuck because I’m not as good at pantsing as I am plotting. But I’d rather have a little bit of mystery waiting for me when I begin writing, rather than have the whole novel ready in my head before I even write a word. As James Scott Bell explains in his book Plot and Structure, plotters run the risk of lacking spontaneity, which the pantsers have in abundance. I don’t want my writing to become boring. So while I may be an outlining freak, I still have some pants. My pants are just more like booty shorts.
I had finished two drafts of novels before I took my first creative writing class. People still argue about teaching writing, and some believe that writing is something that can’t be taught. They should try and read those ancient drafts and see what they think then. Of course, I’m sure that more things than merely education have contributed to my writing. I did write far more regularly back in those days, but then, everything was more regular then.
|This book is very helpful whether you’re
a pantser or a plotter.
Needless to say, I had never heard of “pantsers” and “plotters” when first I started writing. I just did what I felt like doing, usually starting off just writing and making stuff up as I went, and maybe outlining a few things later on. I used to picture my story as a kind of movie then, and I still do sometimes. I’m a very visual person and I’m studying film as well as writing. As I write more, I tend to see things a little differently. Pantsing seemed to work out all right, but then I’d go back and look at my work and find all kinds of problems. But what trouble is that? It was just a draft, after all. Yet every time I plugged one hole, something else opened up.
So, ninety pages into a new draft of a new novel, one I’m considering working on for this class, I decided to start fresh and try and build a solid foundation before I begin to write. I’m trying to be more organized. But I’m young, and I’ve always found trial and error to be effective if time consuming, so I’m trying something and seeing how it goes.
I think that’s also some of where I get blocked up when I’m trying to write. As I’m looking ahead, I’m thinking I’ll probably do lots of different outlines. Just let things go and see where they end up, then shuffle some things around and start again. Eventually my outlines will look like one of those choose your own story books probably, but it’s an experiment.
In my last blog post I talked about being a binge writer. That typically goes with being a pantser. And honestly even if I have outlined something, the details of the scenes come as I write, at least so far. Sometimes that takes me in different directions from where I had plotted, but I’m pretty flexible. The problem with writing a novel is that sometimes it takes a long time to figure out that you’re wrong.
|Redefined implies that there is nothing more to do.
Perhaps a better slogan would be “Redefining Education,”
but maybe that was already taken.
So I’m still searching to improve the way I go about writing long projects. Who knows if I’ll ever be satisfied. I don’t always stick to a certain path, even if it works. Most of the excitement is in the experiment, in the search. There always might be something better (which, by the way, is particularly frustrating when writing because I’m never really satisfied). I don’t think anyone is too old to keep learning. Then again, I’m young, so that’s easy for me to say.
Perhaps I should have put this disclaimer toward the top, but if you came here looking for advice, you’ll find that I’m still figuring things out myself. Check out the other posts on #amnoveling and you may find what you’re looking for. In addition to Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell also has a blog.
|The Pantser’s bookcase/computer chair|
|Okay, so I’m not totally chaotic. I still plan a little.|
by Tom Carreras
When I was a child, I wanted to be an author and illustrator. I was really into writing my own stories and drawing the characters that inhabited my imagination so that others could see. For some tragic reason, once I hit 7th grade, my writing desire all but vanished, and I didn’t write any stories until my senior year of high school, where I wrote a short story (16 pages) for my philosophy class. I loved it, writing by the seat of my pants (and procrastinating a bit to boot!) and loving it. Earlier in high school, probably around my junior year (and crescendo-ing into college), I became extremely interested in film. My personal film collection grew to be ridiculously large, I started to learn the names of too many films, directors, actors, actresses, and screenwriters (and other film trivia pursuit info), and I watched movies. Many, many movies.
|So many movies…|
All of this is to get to my writing method. Since becoming (after some flippy-flopping) a Creative Writing major at the start of my sophomore year, I have noticed that a lot of the way I like to write is in my mind. I enjoy thinking about scenes from stories I am developing – imagining them as live action films.
This mind-filming process of mine is typically coupled with plot outlining. I do like the surprises and changes that can come about from pantsing; however, I typically like having some sort of outline down, if anything so I can visualize more of my story in my head. I have not really used sticky notes or note cards much before for story-plotting purposes. I prefer just writing plot points in short paragraphs.
In planning out the novel for this class, I already have a feeling that there is going to be an exciting mixture of pantsing going on. I think that a balance of the two makes for a lot of fun – it gives me direction yet leaves room for exploration and improvisation.
Here’s to a well-plantsed novel!
|My “super hero” of a father and me.
Also starring my awesome Winnie the Pooh pjs.
|These are my notebooks that I wrote in for six months.
You can see my “plotting” abilities already forming.