Advice,  Writing

Planning an Outline for the Non-Planner

Plotter vs Pantser

If you ever stalk around the #amwriting tag on Twitter you may have seen a lot of acronyms used by the writing community that see you migrate into your inner Sherlock as you desperately try to figure out what is being discussed. I’m still convinced that PNR stands for pick nose right.

But there are some terms that are easier to understand (or should I say easier to look up). You may have seen some writers refer to themselves as either a plotter or a pantser and it’s super easy to identify which bracket you fall into.

Do you have to outline a story before you write?

Do you know exactly what will happen to each of your characters?

Do you write each scene in sequence?

If you answered yes to all of the above, then you’re most likely a plotter. Plotters plan out their entire story beforehand while pantsers, just pick up their pen or run to their keyboard and write whatever they’re feeling. If you want to learn more about these terms I would check out ‘The Pros and Cons of Plotters and Pantsers‘.

Becoming a Plantser

So I thought I was a pantser when I got my first super-duper idea I thought there was no stopping me, and for a while, there wasn’t. Until every writers’ nightmare: writer’s block. Not only did I not know how my scene was going to end, but I also didn’t know where I was heading towards. I knew how I wanted my book to end, and how I wanted to start but thought nothing of the middle. It was like having two slices of bread, good bread, freshly baked out of the oven bread, but there was no filling, I couldn’t even find a piece of cheese.

So I stepped back and stopped thinking about my WIP (work-in-progress) for a while. I was surfing the internet when I came across MasterClass. MasterClass is a hub where subjects are taught by the most successful people in their profession. I watched the trailer for all the ‘learn how to write’ classes and there were quite a few. James Patterson, Judy Blume, Margaret Atwood. (I also deviated and watched some others, I mean Steve Martin teaches comedy, yeah I’m watching). But again I just watched the trailers and yet every author talked about an outline. So, from a brief lesson from the greats, I started one myself. Creating an outline isn’t easy (for me anyway) but I learnt that I’m not a pantser at all, I’m a plantser. A combination of a pantser and a plotter.

So What Does a Plantser Outline Look Like?

I created my outline but it wasn’t incredibly detailed, just the scenes that connected a to b to c to d etc. It meant that if something came up, or one of my characters opened up a new scene I wasn’t trapped by it, instead it acted as my map. I could deviate away from the path but also easily find a new route back to where I needed to be. I did this with my current WIP and I will do it for my series Samael which I plan to post on the blog. Let me explain my steps:

Write down your scenes

If you were like me, you would already have certain scenes that you knew had to be in the story. Write them down. If you were like me, you had horrible ideas that definitely shouldn’t be in the story. Write them down. This isn’t the time to be picky, that comes later. For now, you just want to get your ideas on paper. When you feel like you can’t write any more, congrats you’re a fourth of the way to creating an outline. Here are some scenes of one girl trying to stop a robbery.

Put them in order

Okay, now be picky. Go through all your scenes and decide what you want to keep and what just isn’t working. (I would advise you to keep the ideas you think are terrible. You may think of an idea that sees a scene you thought as awful become one of your best, or once your a bestselling author you can dig them out and laugh at yourself). Once you’ve collected your scenes of gold, organise them in the right order. You’re creating a timeline. The way you organise depends on the person you are. Some like writing each scene on its own card, others bullet point in a notebook while I just used a good old excel spreadsheet. Each line is a new scene.

Fill in the gaps

Using Excel was great because it allowed me to move scenes around, and insert new ones, which is crucial for this part. Filling in the gaps. Unless you’ve been so thorough with part 1, it’s likely you have big jumps between scenes. I’m not going to lie, this part is tough. This was the hardest part for me. You’re going to have to think of more scenes and bridge the gaps. If it seems impossible, it isn’t, just step back for a day or two and clear your head. It’ll come.

Determine how you divide them

You now should have an outline. It may not be super detailed. It may not be perfect. I’m sure a plotter would look at my outlines in disgust but remember for a plantser, your outline is just a guide. You can follow it scene by scene but that doesn’t mean you can’t deviate when then mood strikes. I am nearly 11,000 words into my WIP and 90% are scenes I didn’t plan but they’re still heading in the same direction and they offer my book so much.

Another way to keep yourself going in the right direction is to divide your book. I didn’t use chapters. They stressed me out. I looked at all the numbers, “85,000 words for a ya fantasy, 4,500 words is an average chapter, so I need around 20 chapters, do I have enough scenes? What scene should go in what chapter? Maybe I should split this scene? Will there be enough to say if I split?” It. Stressed. Me. Out. Now that may seem so irrational to you but I felt that chapters were just too planny. So instead I broke my scenes into parts. It was great for allowing me to know the main plot point of each section.

For my current WIP, I ended up with 100+ scenes with only around 6 parts.

Don’t Listen to My Advice

So I’m a plantser, I need an outline but something that doesn’t cage me. You may be completely different. After reading my planning process you may think of it like hell, or you see parts you like and some you don’t. It’s ok. The best thing I did was find my own process, what other people were doing didn’t work for me, only when I got into my own flow did everything knit together. Everyone works differently, don’t get disheartened if you try a process that everyone swears by and it doesn’t work for you. So try the plantser method, try the plotter method, try the pantser method, create your own method. Although, if you do create your own, please make sure it begins with a p, we’re not savages.

Happy writing.

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