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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Need Directions?

Writing without an outline is like driving without a set destination.

Larry Brooks – who by the way has an excellent blog to learn from – said, “We all start as pantsers. Only some of us, when we understand what elements and aesthetics a story needs to embrace before it will work, tend to adopt the habit of planning for it ahead of time.”

He also said you can write a story without planning it out ahead of time. You can. But... and here’s the kicker for me, how much easier would it have been had you planned it out so you wouldn’t write yourself into a corner and have to figure out how to get out of it?

So my question to you is this... do you want to be a prolific writer? One who can set deadlines and KEEP THEM? Do you want to finish more than one story a year or even finish one story and start a new one? And if you’ve been writing on the same project for over a year now, isn’t it time to try something new?

To tell the truth to you, this is a fairly new concept for me as well but it’s working. Last year I stumbled across two great sites that explained Outlining for me in a way I could understand it. It was simple. And easy for me. I fell in love with the concept and have now become an advocate for outlining. So what websites were they you ask? Holly Lisle’s How to think Sideways course. You don’t have to sign up for the course at all but can learn quite a bit about it just from the numerous articles she has on her site. Here’s the link: http://hollylisle.com/

And the other was Larry Brooke’s blog called Story Fix: http://storyfix.com/
Lots of info there too. So how exactly do you outline. I think it’s a personal choice honestly. Some people tend to outline to the detail and others give just the barest hint of information. I think I fall somewhere in between.

One of the lessons Holly discusses in her course is outlining with index cards. I do the same only on my computer. I break down how many chapters I’m going to roughly have, then take three scenes per chapter and come up with a total number of scenes. Normally, I have twenty chapters with three scenes at about six pages a scene. That equals about sixty scenes total. I give a one liner per scene that describes what’s happening. I know my beginning and my ending. My personal opinion is you need to know where you’re going so that you can write to it.

With that basic outline, I can stray from my original plan a little and still end up where I wanted to go. Since last year I have completed two manuscripts and am currently half way through my third. I don’t know if they will sell but they are definitely learning tools in my hand. If they don’t, I am certain I can move on and write something else and one day I know I will get published. Everyone needs a learning phase and if you rush it, then perhaps you aren’t learning all you can first.

So let’s debate this, are you a pantser or a plotter and why? And if you’re one or the other, are you willing to try the other for your next story just to see which way fits your life style better? Think about it.


  1. I am a panster far more than an outliner. I have tried outlining. I've outlined in detail and I have outlined in oneliners. Once I outline, I get bored with the story and I don't want to write it. I like be surprised with how things turn out instead of knowing what is going to happen. Oh, I have a basic outline in my head, but a lot of times I have no idea what is going to happen in between. Yes, I have written myself into many corners and there are a few places I am stuck, but it is worth it for the surprises to come. I know others swear by outlining and sometimes I wish I did because it probably would be easier. But, every time I have tried it, it didn't work for me. I am glad you have found something that works for you, Melissa.

  2. Thanks for sharing Amy. Some people have the right kind of memory for outlining in thier head but I sure don't lol. So I commend you for that. I simply have to see it on paper or I'll forget what I was going to write. I have a terrible memory anyway, I have lists for everything, grocery store list, to do list, to do for the week list lol. Thanks for commenting Amy as always you give great points!

  3. I'm about halfway between being a plotter and a pantser. I have to know where I'll get in the end, and I need an idea of where I'm going between the beginning and the end...but I give myself some leeway in that middle section to grow and change with my characters as I get to know them better. It seems that no matter how many character building exercises I do before I sit down at the computer to start writing, once I've written a few chapters, I know my characters so much better than I did at the beginning. And knowing them better means that they might do something which before I assumed they would never do. I do wish I could outline a little better than I currently do, though. What I do is sit down and write out a long synopsis, detailing back story and plot twists and turns, and points where a particular character will be feeling a certain way. But it seems to always be up for interpretation. LOL. If I do plot too heavily, I feel like I'm blocking myself and my characters into a set pattern that might not fit once I get into the writing.

  4. I'm very much like you Catherine, I'm in the middle. I don't do planned out character charts and such because the thrill is learning my characters and how they react. I don't think with writing that one size fits all. We each have to find our own route and what feels comfortable for one may not for another. I like your idea of a synopsis first to get to know the character, I think I'll try that with my newest story just to see how it goes. Thanks for stopping in!

  5. Great blog, Melissa! I used to say I was a pantser, but I realized I do a lot of outlining in my head. I usually think about a story for months before I decide to write it and play the scenes out over and over in my head until it comes out right.

    I won't start a story unless I know how it ends. But if I write it down, I lose interest in it.So my outlining is limited to what I can hold in my head.

  6. I kind of fall in between plotting and pantsing. I rarely know the story when I start writing, but once I get going, it reveals itself to me. I'm kind of a write a chapter, outline the next chapter type...if that makes any sense. LOL! I rarely know the end, though, other than that it will be a HEA. That's something that usually comes to me while I'm sleeping or working out. I have tried outlining before, but my characters usually take a turn away from the outline somewhere along the way and then all that time is wasted. They really do have minds of their own!

    Great post!

  7. I always have a general idea of what I want to do. I make lists and outlines, but they are very loose and subject to change. I almost always start with listing my characters' goals, motivation and conflict. I figure out the complications as I go. I definitely have no idea what my characters are going to say or do in any given scene, which makes it fun for me. I simply know what I want to accomplish. Oooh, and I LOVE twists in my stories, so I always have that figured out at the beginning.

  8. I am a complete and total pantser. I rarely get stuck and love the excitement of not knowing what is going to happen until it happens.

    I know several successful pansters and several successful plotters. Both are valid processes. Funny you should post this today, Melissa. It will tie in nicely to my blog tomorrow. So tune in for my very opinionated post in the morning.

  9. I don't think there is any one right way to write a novel. The more you read about other authors, the more you realise that your own process is a reflection of the way you think.

    I plot major events on a whiteboard: balls, fights, accidental pond dunkings. I need to SEE where I'm going and I did the same thing in my previous career in Financial Planning. I'd close my eyes, picture the cashflow chart, move money here and there so the client had better income. It's just the way I'm wired.

    One day maybe I wont need to write it at all, but I bet I'll still be outlining in my head.