Wednesday, August 29, 2012

August is Awesome Because of Anthony Rudzki

Tony is a writer I met in the Yahoo Fantasy Writing Group.  The man has exceptional taste in stories and a keen eye well suited for a constructive critique.

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.

Anthony Rudzki

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.

I could never understand the idea behind outlining. I mean, it was boring in elementary school, boring in high school, and I was sure it would be boring now. It seemed a waste of time to meticulously plot out the story, documenting twists and turns and adding additional detail as needed with a simple indention.

Just write the darn thing!

I thought.

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:

Griffin's Point
   Enter the Tavern
      Hade's Jewel
         Smokey, Crowded
         Matronly Hostess
      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!
Anthony Rudzki is married, father of two children and milkbone supplier for 3 beagles. Currently working on his first fantasy novel that is leaking red editors ink by the bucketful. When he is not writing, he is playing dungeon crawl video games, writing html/php/css code and generally finding excuses to continue to not write. He likes sunsets, puppies and walks along the beach.

Tony blogs as Writings From the Fruit Cellar

And tweets from @GroupOfFour


  1. I like to think of myself as a half and half writer really. I've done outlining before, and I really liked the result I came up with. The novel was fairly solid, and I really felt that I could do something with it in revision.

    However I also like to pants some novels, especially where I have only a little idea of where it might go and I'm having trouble working out the plotline in an outline. or I might just pants because, well, it's fun.

    For next NaNoWriMo I've vowed to get an outline done though. I'm definitely in favour of outlines, though mine are not nearly so detailed as yours seem to be. I know the major plot points, which gives my pantser self the freedom to work the rest of the story out as it wants to. It's a pretty good compromise for me.

    1. Balance in this appears to be either a talent or well-honed skill for you, Imogen. Whichever it is, I admire your ability to tackle a project from either side. That's like being able to play the piano "by ear" and read music too. Best of both worlds.

  2. I suspect most people are somewhere in the middle. I'm more of a pantster, I've never sat down and done an outline but I do like to think of where my story will end up.

    1. I think that's about where I am Sara. My "plotting" was like: "okay, this has to happen and then this... gotta work in that... oh yeah, and they have to end up here for that to work." Then I started typing and took all kinds of lovely detours and made some wonderful discoveries.

  3. I didn't know it until a few months ago in a sort of "Luke, I'm your father" revelation but I was born a plotter. I plot and then I may or may not let my characters (or a certain dragon tamer) change it, but I do have a plot and the need to keep plotting. I founded the evil plotters secret society with a writing partner but it didn't work. Our differences of opinion always left characters between the wall and the sword. She had nervous breakdown before I could open the secret door in the wall that would allow the main character off the hook (what? I was supposed to be evil) I'm trying to work on that evilness but I love plotting.

    1. LOL. For me, I knew the main things that had to happen in the book, but found getting there to be incredibly difficult--especially the climax. I'm not sure where I would have ended up had I not kept my sights on the end game. Well, I'd probably be on page 2,314 of the initial draft still trying to figure out how to wrap it all up! :)

  4. A great post! I'm definitely a plotter. I write down outlines, I use note cards and I have to know where the story is going to write the manuscript. Good luck to you Jeff with your WIP!

    1. Many thanks! The WIP is going well overall. I'm editing the first book and deciphering plot points for the sequel. At this point, I'm trying to make sure nothing will arise in this (or a future) sequel that would require changes to the first. :)

  5. I shall now throw myself on the ground and bemoan the loss of one of our own! Ah, cruel world!

    I tried outlining last year for NaNo. I've tried it before, will probably try it again. It doesn't work for me. I haven't touched that NaNo story since. The story's OK, but I'm not interested any more since I know where it's going. For the first time, I had to force myself to finish NaNo. I got to the 50k, and dropped it.

    I should probably do a blog post about the joys of being a pantser.

    1. LOL Lauren. I look forward to reading that post!

  6. I have always worked from an outline. I need to know where I am going before I begin. My last outline took four months to put together, and I finally started writing for June's BuNo because if I added anymore to the outline, I would really be writing the story anyway.

    1. My eyes grew large when I read "four months" but I've been tossing around an array of ideas and plot points for my sequel now for at least three months. I even have some of it mapped out on my whiteboards and still more notes in my Magic Muse workbench. I'm teetering dangerously close to the Dark Side, but I'll always be a Pantser at heart. :)

  7. Welcome to the dark side!

    I'm a hard-core plotter, but over years I've noticed that even us hard-core plotters do some degree of pantsing - inside our minds! But when it comes to hitting the keyboard, most of us get sucked into the joy of creating a framework before churning out prose.

    I wonder if it has something to do with impatience - quickly wanting to know how the entire story unfolds instead of waiting for months (or in some cases, even years) to let the characters take us along!

    1. I agree, Swati. I believe there has to be a bit of both approaches to make it all work. Almost everything I had planned in my book changed while writing. Only the major points remained and even they took on different "flavors" from what I had envisioned.

  8. I'm impressed by how insightful all the posts on this blog are. I'm glad I found this blog because it is a great resource and always makes for a good read!

    I get stuck because when I pants it I lose all faith/interest/direction in the midway point and end up not finishing it at all.
    But if I tryi to outline, I get a little bored.

    This current WIP of mine, I did write out brief chapter points (so it's an MG, about 30 chapters, I filled in connect the dots kind of thing). Its worked out okay, but I still feel I'm not an effective outliner. Like I feel there must be some marvelous perfect outlining technique that I'm not cluing into :)
    I've seen some people like the snowflake method or really detailed methods, but they really intimidate me and admittedly just FLY right over my head. Too scientific :)

    Thanks for the post!


    1. I know where you're coming from, Jill. For me, discovering is at least half the fun and I'll change direction in a heartbeat if a better path opens while writing.

      However, I found Tony's outline approach to be far less rigid than the attempts at outlining I had tried in the past. And while I'll probably never outline a complete book in deep detail, setting up some mile-markers and signposts definitely have advantages.