Not long ago, I considered myself an inveterate pantser. The very idea of an outline gave me hives. I couldn’t think in outline form. My words had to be free to roam. Free I say! In grade school, when I had to write a paper and *snort* show my work, I wrote the final draft (or the next to the final draft) first and worked my way backwards through the rough draft, outline and clustering (what the heck is clustering anyway?).
So, when it came to writing, naturally I carried that aversion to outlining with me. I’d heard of folks outlining stories but that was just too terrible to think about. And the whole lack of outline thing seemed to work fine for short stories and flash fiction. Heck, Stephen King pantses the bulgogi out of whole novels.
Yep, the pantsing thing was totally gonna work for me.
Except it didn’t.
In short order, I found myself with a 2/3 – 3/4 of a manuscript and no idea how to bridge the gap from where I was to how I wanted the story to end. Worse, I was starting to suspect there were bigger problems with the story. And then I started to worry that maybe my whole concept was a steaming pile of giraffe excrement. Would I have to throw away a year’s work? Maybe I didn’t have what it took to sustain a novel. Maybe I wasn’t even meant to be a writer at all.
Yep, my inner moppet really knows how to throw a tantrum.
I wanted to curl up with a bucket of mint -n- chip ice cream, drowning in hot fudge and self-pity.
Instead, I put my manuscript down and took a deep breath.
Then, as often seems to happen when we step back from a disaster, several ideas came together and beat me over the head. There were the character profile and outline worksheets from Victoria Schmidt’s Book in a Month that I’d partially filled out while writing my MIP (the only way I thought I could stomach an outline at that point). I read Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and was grudgingly beginning to accept his ideas. Then I heard about Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method for outlining.
Bada bing bada boom. The light bulb (energy-efficient, of course) went on over my head. Maybe outlining didn’t suck all that much. Maybe I could do it in a free-form kinda way. Maybe plotting could save my novel. Maybe.
I started outlining the scenes I had already written while thinking about what Brooks had said about plot points and what makes a scene. As I watched the scenes stack up in the outline, I began to see how the story fit together and what was missing. As I filled in the missing scenes, I discovered new things about my characters and story world and new directions for the story. Sometimes I even branched off and followed several different story possibilities until I found the right path.
I discovered I loved outlining. It didn’t fence me in but let me see the big picture. It actually freed me up to explore my story without having to write draft after draft. But the most important thing I discovered was that, whether or not I have a King-sized talent, I have what might be more important for a successful writer: I’m willing to learn, try new things, and work my pants off.
What do you think? Where do you fall on the pansting-plotting continuum? If you’re a diehard pantser, would you ever give plotting a try? If you’re a confirmed plotter, how do you plot? Do you think talent or hard work counts more in the writing game, or are they equal?