Pantsing Vs Plotting

It’s still Monday I swear!

Apologies for missing last week, with the holiday season looming I was beginning to lose track of my days and bunking down for the onslaught of shopping and family. Today was filled with adventures in blizzarding (yes, I made that word up) and I’m just now finding the peace and quiet to jot this down. Does it count as jotting when you’re typing?

Pantsing Vs Plotting

I used to be a pantser, but I’m a converted plotter. In the beginning, after creating the heavens and the earth of my new world (snort), I would just write away. I’d worry about those silly little continuity details later! The stories were alive and couldn’t wait! And then they were awkward. And, oh dear, are they hiding in the bathroom now? I could always begin with a flair, fireworks lighting up the first 10-15k words or so. Then it would peter out, and eventually die a slow death. Now, pantsing, I have in fact finished a couple of novels, but they’re disjointed and random. The stories are shallow and any twists I have in them are accompanied by the theatrical thrum of a small organ. Dun dun dun!

Do I think all pantsers have such experiences? Of course not. In fact, I have no idea the planning/not planning methods of any of my favorite authors. I don’t think that pantsing or plotting really matters, to each their own. I’m all about that really, doing your own thing–so long as it really works. I was convinced that by pantsing I was a free spirit and if I were so risky as to write down a solid plot, I would be limiting myself and destroying any organic element in my story. I have found the absolute opposite to be true.

In my previous blog about rewriting a manuscript, I briefly touched on how much detail I now put into my outlines. DB:C is in fact the first novel I did a truly detailed outline on. I originally pantsed it, to be honest, and it was going nowhere. I read it through, halfway through writing it, and realized that my world was horribly disjointed and plot holes were abundant. I was disorganized and, naturally, I created an outline from the story I already had to get myself back on track. It created a larger picture for me and with a sinking jubilation I realized I had been completely wrong for most of my life. I hated admitting I was wrong (who doesn’t?), but was elated to discover that I in fact blossomed with a detailed outline.

I’m sorry if I seem to be repeating myself, but I can’t help but to reiterate how much this discovery has simplified and changed my writing life. I’ve been writing most of my life. I’ve had a passion for reading and writing for as long as I’ve been capable of either, and to have discovered this fatal mistake at 31 was rather…fun? Exciting? Invigorating? Terrifying?

Not only did I see, clearly, the mistakes I had made but was able to impose and include more organic pieces to the story. Side characters turned into supporting characters, supporting characters turned into main characters. Originally DB:C  was to be about one man and one woman. Now it boasts a cast of at least half a dozen. With the detailed outline I was able to hone in on the main story arc as well as those roaming around in the background, who ultimately effected the outcome of the story.

Enough babbling about how this changed me. I’ll create an example of my outline and explain how each little bit helps me.

Part 3, Scene 13
Who: Mr. Example, Example Ladyface, Background Example
When: midnight, (moon phase 11)
Weather: clear, cold
Where: Mr. Example’s parlor
I. Mr. E and E. Ladyface, displeased with her recent service, are discussing B. Example’s potential firing.
II. B. Example listens in and decides she’ll quit before they fire her.

In place of the “Part 3, Scene 13″ some may have chapters. I personally, at least for my current book, have done parts divided up into scenes rather than chapters.

It’s a lot of detail, but having the weather and the time help me recall the setting of the scene. You can create great atmosphere with these little reminders. Since it’s midnight and the sky is clear, the room can be lit only by the moon (which is why we do our moon phases for accuracy, is it full? new? waning? waxing? the moon phase determines how much light it provides) or a single lit candle. Since the weather is cold, the windows could be frosted and a blazing fire in the hearth battles the arctic winds howling against the glass. What do you really want to say with this scene? Are you trying to create pity for Background Example? Or for Mr. Example and Ladyface? In the dim shadows their faces can be angular and harsh while talking about their help’s fate. Or in turn, she can be sneaky and in the shadows, further proving why they should distrust and be unhappy with her.

I’m not so simple minded that I can’t conjure up a setting on the spot, but a predetermined setting is efficient and more effective. Extreme temperatures can assist in the suppression or elation of a character. Cold with loneliness, heat with oppression, etc.

And I just realized this is more about the effective use of setting. Back to the point!

That’s an example of my outline. In reality, I say do what works for you, but it might not be a bad idea to try the other first. Though DB:C was the first book I truly put to outline (and in turn the story has evolved into a whole other, albeit wonderful, creature), I have used this method in plotting other titles I’m working on. It’s a world of difference. Nothing is set in stone and I can’t for the life of me remember why I felt that outlining was carved into granite. It’s a few simple backspaces, or crossing out lines, or erasing if you’re ambitious. It’s so much easier to see the big picture and in turn, the layers run deeper, and your characters evolve along with it.

I’ll just leave with this: When I had my story plotted properly, I flew through it. It was such a relief to know what was happening next, and when it came time to fix something, it was surprisingly easy to do so and continue with the correct flow of the story. When changing something, I rarely had to do it all the way through. My word count soars when I have a detailed outline. And in turn, I feel that taking off the extra stress opened up my mind for more possibilities within the story itself. It gave room for my world to grow and blossom on its own. And yes, I’ve said blossom several times tonight. I encourage you to do the same. Outline, not say blossom a million times.

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