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By inclination I’m a Pantser
(Pantsers, Pantsers, Oi, Oi, Oi!)
(That’s our motto)
(I just made it up)
I’ve read online about plotters who get their entire book, down to each and every scene, outlined to within an inch of its life. No, really, the whole thing. I’m talking thirty page outlines. Detailed character backgrounds. Entire world building strata. Lists of possible names, place names, and religious systems charted out in those little tree charts. Color coded sections and index cards and things.
Mostly I see things like that and think, “if you’re going to spend time writing up thirty pages . . . why not just write thirty pages of the book?” Cause pantser, remember.
That’s one extreme end of the spectrum. On the other extreme, I’ve read stories online about pantsers who can hold all the threads of their idea inside their head as they write it out. I’d compare it to weaving an entire blanket straight from their head to the keyboard without a pattern or loom to tell them where they’re going. I stand in awe of the raw talent there, but I can’t do that myself.
I’ve discovered that even pantsers need to outline. Most writers (who are neither plotter nor pantser, but a mix of both) need some way to organize their thoughts.
Solid experience speaking here. I tried pure-pantsing at first. Full on winging it.
For me, this turned out to be a big mistake. I spent WAY more time running back and fixing all of the stuff I left out, making sure my plots lined up, foreshadowing, just generally running around cleaning up and NOT WRITING THE BOOK when I did that. So I learned.
Outlines are your friends. Yes, even if you’re a pantser.
I like to think I’ve found a nice, happy middle here. Loose enough outlines to let my pantser pants run amok. Tight enough to keep me going forward, instead of sideways or backwards. The template I use is a mash-up of the At-A-Glance outline from Writer’s Digest (free to download) and the Freytag model from SelfPublishingTeam.com (also free).
For any of you fellow pantsers out there I turned this mash-up into a .pdf file. Plotters are welcome to use it, too, and add all kinds of fun details. Hopefully it will help you stay on track to hit all the major story beats, while still leaving you some room to play.
Click on it and use it, with my compliments: Pantser Story Outline
Do you have your own outlining method? What kind do you use? I’m always happy to look up new ideas and tweak.
Image credit to stocksnap.io and Maria Shanina