He's also a recent convert, having forsaken the fellowship of pantsers. It's okay though, most of the pantser fellowship has forgiven him. They wave to him occasionally from across the gulf of style. He smiles and waves in return. The kingdom is at peace.
His post should be required reading for pantsers. (We all need a little structure.) If you're a pantser and feel a sudden disturbance in the Force, it might just be your muse prodding you to try another approach.
The writing world seems to be broken up into the seat-of-your-pants writers, who start writing and let their imaginations take the story where it wants to go, and outliners, who want a clear, defined path from which to forge a story. Granted, there is plenty of writing style strata between these two extremes, but I'd like to tell you about my journey.
I used to be a Pantsers. There. I said it. I would start with an idea, sitting in front of the PC and start telling my story. I had no inkling as to where the story was headed and I, like most other seaters, believed that the character is somehow taking the story where THEY want it to go.
The Pantser's method is amazing when you think about it, and a testament to the human mind's ability to keep an abstract concept like a fiction story moving along and in some cases, make it interesting and enjoyable.
Just write the darn thing!
Fast forward to NaNoWriMo 2011. Fifty thousand words in thirty days. A crazy time for crazy people. So, as an experiment, I decided to try outlining and see if it could help me reach my goal of a novel in thirty days. During the month of October, I creating an outline for a novel called "Quest", and revised it throughout the month.
So what happened? The best I've ever done writing long works, seat-of-my-pants, was seventeen thousand words total. With my experimental outline in place, I completed thirty-six thousand words before the "contest" expired.
I have abandoned my seat-of-my-pants ways for novels and am firmly in the outliner camp. I freely admit that I am glad that I have affixed the yoke of rigidness onto my shoulders and given up the carefree and lighthearted world of the Pantsers that I had formerly enjoyed.
So, what is the draw towards outlines? I've compiled some thoughts hoping to sway the Pantsers to come over to the dark side and experience the good life.
1) Overcoming the hesitation to start an outline
You have a great idea for a novel. Mentally, you've been over the basic plot, twisting it and wringing out some of the imaginative goodness that brings out the excitement to actually write it. Physically, your fingers are itching to get something down and the last thing on your mind is to start outlining. You don't want to be hamstrung with outlining when you just want to dive in and get the story started. Don't give in to the temptation! Switching over to an outliner's lifestyle is all about patience and planning ahead. Create your plot, follow your characters through your world and ensure that your climax is not only exciting, but ties up all of the loose ends that you have in your tale. As painful as you may think that it will be, it will payoff when your reviews aren't asking "what happened to so-and-so?" and "Blander lost the magic widget in chapter 2, how did it appear in chapter 9?"
2) Start from the obvious, simple points and move inward increasing in detail and complexity.
Do you remember outlining in school? No? You probably groaned back then the way you're groaning now. You don't have to feel that way. I outlined my current work in progress, Quest, by starting with three parts. Why three? Generally, novels have an intro where we learn about the world, the characters and what gives the characters their motivation. They have a middle section where the lions-share of the story occurs and where most of the tension in the story is revealed. Finally, there is the climax, where the story's conclusion is tied up in a neat red bow. In section one of the Quest outline, I included two headings called "Introduce the World" and "Characters". Subheadings for "Introduce the World" was "Fantasy Setting" and "Magic Exists". Subheadings for those gave additional detail of the fantasy world and explained how magic functioned. The key to outlining is to keep introducing subheadings with additional detail until all of your thoughts on that subject are captured.
3) Milestones and Waypoints
The heading for the middle section is simply called "Quest". This is where the vast majority of the story unfolds, and is the "adventuring" portion. To keep track of the goings on, I have a list of headings that are waypoints in the story. These are the locations, or the events themselves, where things happen. Doing it this way, I am able to follow the party's travels as they move along from point to point. I have a 20,000 foot level view of the novel and can literally talk the novel through each of my headings have one or more subheadings which add additional detail for that milestone. For example:
Enter the Tavern
Meet Legan Hillcutter at the Bar
Discuss the dagger
When my characters enter Griffin's Point, they go into a tavern called "Hade's Jewel". The place is smoky from the cooking fires and patrons smoking pipes. My group will make their way through the crowded room and find a table. A matronly hostess named Sarah will take their order and apologize for any delay due to the crowd. Kyle (the main character) will leave the table and go to the bar to expedite their drinks. This is where he meets Legan Hillcutter and after some writing wizardry, I get them talking about the dagger that Kyle has hanging on his belt.
Outlining is pretty cool, huh?
In closing, I understand that every writer has their own style of doing things and outlining your next novel may not appeal to you. However, keep an open mind and just give it a try. Pick a major project where you can really get a meaty story plot outlined, and see how spending the time up-front can sometimes make the actually storytelling easier. Traveling along when you know where the next waypoint is on the map can make the journey smoother and much more satisfying.
About Anthony Rudzki:
|Anthony Rudzki is awesome!|
Tony blogs as Writings From the Fruit Cellar
And tweets from @GroupOfFour