Today writer and editor T.J. Loveless ruminates on when pantsing it just isn't cutting it, and how to get the benefits of an outline even when you don't, can't or are morally against outlines. T.J.'s cat-filled, heavily padded web lair can be found here.
~Standing at the podium~
Hello, my name is T.J. And...I'm a Pantser.
There are two types of writers. The Outliners who write every plot point, scene and the sequence it should follow. This type of writer knows their story, understands how it will move forward, how it should end.
Then there are Pantsers. Called this because the idea pops in our heads and we sit in front our writing medium of choice to blindly follow our imaginations to the bitter end.
Followed by major revisions, edits and “I can't believe I wrote that.”
The problem with pantsing through an MS is the obstacles, speed bumps and brick walls when not sure what happens next. It is a common complaint among pantsers – we know the beginning, the end and what should happen, yet don't know the details of how to move our worlds forward, the conflicts, or most of the plot. We prefer to remain airborne, flying by the seats of our pants, hoping we can work through the various problems faced while writing our lovely stories. And find ourselves cleaning our homes to a bright shine, cooking, the dogs are worn out on walks and driving the family crazy as we try to get over the dreaded writer's block.
I tried outlining. I really did. Composed five pages of plot points, scenes, characters, places, issues. The problem? I boxed myself in, obsessed when the story took a turn I didn't have on the outline, unable to move the story forward. I froze. Deleted the entire fifty plus pages I'd already written.
Seems I couldn't win. I needed to find some kind of middle ground.
For those of us unable to work with an outline, and tired of hoping we can fly through the turbulence to the end, it's time to land in reality. Design various ways to stay true to our Pantser style yet learn lessons from Outliners.
As an example, I'll toss myself into the fire. Aaron? Got the fire extinguisher ready?
For my current WIP, Going Thru Hell, I decided to try something a little different.
I knew outlining would render me useless, however, I did know the beginning and end of the story, the characters and their roles, the place and the major plot. I had an idea of what conflict would be necessary to keep the story moving.
How? Instead of immediately sitting down to type every thought attached to the story, I let it stew a little. Thought about it, went over the characters until I understood all of their idiosyncrasies, what kind of action scenes I wanted and why. I didn't write it down. I simply let the story roll through my gray matter, allowed it to unfold and my imagination take flight.
Once I managed to get a very rough outline in my head, I typed it out. Not in typical outline fashion. I wrote two sentences saying who, what, where, when, why and how. Followed by little three sentence paragraphs about the major points, conflicts and location. I went online and found pictures of actors in roles of characters similar to the characters in my story. Found a picture of a dragon to match how I thought the Mesopotamian goddess, Tiamat, might have looked.
Without it being an outline, per se, I felt a little freer to make any changes necessary. I could still fly, but wrote out a general idea of how I wanted my story to move forward.
Several times I've made changes. I'm not boxed in by the outline. One character surprised me by becoming more important than I'd originally imagined. I'm okay with it and added the new twist into my one page document.
Since I began writing Going Thru Hell, I've only experienced writer's block once. I started writing the story in November, with the goal of having it finished, edited and in the query trenches by February.
I'm going to make it.
More of T.J.'s blogging is at the Writing From the Padded Room blog.