Monday, January 25, 2016

The Vacation Route to Completing a Novel

The Vacation Route to Completing a Novel
by Terry W. Ervin II

Just about every writer, and a good number of readers, know one way to categorize writers is Pantsters vs. Plotters. A ‘pantster’ just sits down and writes their novel, not knowing what happens next, until they reach the end of the story. A ‘plotter’ outlines or plans their book and uses that as a guide while writing the novel, from beginning to the end of the story. Of course, the division isn’t as black and white as that. For example, the degree to which an author plans or outlines their novels varies greatly.

After Relic Tech comes this!
In any case, this article isn’t intended to discuss which method is superior, or should be used, because, in truth, there isn’t any single ‘right way’ to write a novel. What works for one author may or may not be efficient or effective for another. Anyone who believes there is only one ‘right way’ is, well, wrong. Otherwise, every successful author would use the exact same writing process—which they don’t.

What I am going to share is what works for me, and has worked for a number of writers that have struggled in the past…either ‘pantstering’ and writing themselves into a corner, or leaving a jumbled, rambling storyline with plot holes and tangents galore—something unmanageable to work with. Or the writers that can’t get beyond the outlining stage. And, if the outlining authors do, they can’t transition that outline into a compelling story.

Places to visit
I think of the way I outline and plan a novel before writing it as similar to planning a road trip for a vacation. For a vacation, you plan out a route to your ultimate destination. You plan where you intend to stop and visit along the way. How long the stop will be and what sights will be seen. As with any vacation, there will be detours and unexpected sights to see. Some anticipated stops will be shortened or bypassed all together. Some stretches of road will take longer than anticipated, with construction or crowded bottlenecks. Other sections will breeze by faster than anticipated. Still, along the way, even on the road, there are things to see and experience.

Just as with the vacation road trip, I plan out my novel, from the starting point to the final destination—how it will end. I identify major plot points or events along the way (major places to stop and visit). While I have an idea how long it will take to write certain scenes containing the various plot events, sometimes it takes more words (stay there longer). Sometimes I write something unanticipated (stop at an unanticipated destination along the way) and sometimes I eliminate something from the plot (bypassing a planned stop along the way).

The thing is, an outline isn’t written in stone, just as vacation plans shouldn’t be. The flexibility allows the story to grow and become more interesting along the way. Me? I plan in a spiral notebook, taking up about fifteen pages. I jot down relevant events, bits of interesting dialogue or places or characters to be introduced, things like that. With two novels, I transferred the handwritten version to a Word document. This makes it easier to add or delete information, as opposed to adding new ideas in a different color pen or crossing things out. See, that outline is dynamic, and as ideas strike me over the course of writing, I have an organized place to jot (or type) them as they come to me.

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Another hidden benefit is that I don’t get writer’s block. Why not? I know exactly which mile marker (event within the plot outline) I am at, and what mile marker (plot destination) I am traveling (writing) towards. At least that is how writing has worked out for me.

So, if you’re a writer that struggles to start, or efficiently finish, a novel, whether you’re a pantster or a plotter, consider giving my method a try. Modify it to your needs and writing style (some authors use index cards or spread sheets). If you’re an avid reader who thinks you might have a good novel inside of you…consider starting out with this method to organize that novel (or novella or short story) so that it can be written.

About Terry:
Terry W. Ervin II is an English and science teacher who enjoys writing fantasy and science fiction. His First Civilization’s Legacy Series (fantasy) includes Flank Hawk, Blood Sword, and Soul Forge.

The Crax War Chronicles, his science fiction series, includes Relic Tech and Relic Hunted (his most recent release from Gryphonwood Press).

In addition to writing novels, Terry’s short stories have appeared in over a dozen anthologies, magazines and ezines. Genre Shotgun is a collection containing all of his previously published short stories.

To contact Terry or learn more about his writing endeavors, visit his website at and his blog, Up Around the Corner at

Check here for all of Terry's books!