I used to be (and largely still am) a pantser. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term let me explain: In the writing world, there are two types of writers: “Plotters”, and “Pantsers” (don’t ask who came up with the terms because I honestly don’t know)
- Plotters create an abbreviated plot outline detailing the way their story will unfold, before they write.
- Pantsers (as the name implies) tend to write by the seat of their pants, creating and shaping the plot as they write.
In my years as a writer, I have always been a dedicated pantser and turned my nose up at even the prospect of outlining. “Outlines are for sissies.” Largely summed up my attitude, I considered them worthless, and counted them as unnecessary time-wasters that were just downright boring! I mean, why write an outline when you can just write the story. Right?
It wasn’t until recently (last week to be precise) that I begin to understand why people write, and suggest that everyone else should write, outlines. So over the last week, I decided to bite the bullet and write a plot outline for my current in-work Science Fiction Dystopian novel. It wasn’t easy by any definition of the word, and many times I got frustrated and tried to convince myself to stop. But I didn’t, I kept to it, and actually just finished the other day.
To be truthful, I am utterly amazed at the benefits I have encounter in the past week. The process of outlining actually eliminated some of the pitfalls I have encountered in the past as a writer, and left me invigorated and ready to hit this book running knowing that I have a few less chances of dead-ending than I did before.
Today I’d like to share a few of those benefits, with the hope that they can convince pantsers everywhere to see the light and convert to plotters.
#1: It gives you a clear plan to reference while writing:
Let’s face it, no matter how hard we try, details get lost in our heads. If don’t you capture thoughts and ideas when they appear, chances are you never will. Writing an outline forces you to put it on paper. It gives you a hard-copy and gives you a clear plan of where you’re going.
It’s like a map.
Because, honestly, the last thing you want is to be three-hundred pages deep into a thick jungle of Chapter-trees, and realize that as you hacked your way through the Page-vines, slogged through the Word-Swamps, and fought off the Writer’s-Block cannibals, you forgot what was supposed to happen next. You might say, “That would never happen to me.” But guess what…
I’ve been there and the feeling you get is the same as when you accidentally fall asleep on your keyboard and permanently delete the last six chapters that you just wrote (done that one too.)
#2: It helps to eliminate plot-holes before you start writing:
Outlines are easy to fix, novels are not. In my current in-work novel, I was amazed at the plot-holes that had to be reworked. All of them had the potential to stop my story dead, and since I didn’t catch the holes until I finished writing the outline of Act-III, I can guarantee that it would have required massive rewrite’s to fix if I hadn’t outlined. Since I outlined first I eliminated these problems, before they had a chance to throw a monkey-wrench in my story’s clockwork gears.
#3: It helps you to see your story in a new perspective:
If you’re anything like me, you can relate to Hawkeye from Avengers when he states “Well, I see better from a distance.” Outlining is the same thing. It’s “seeing from a distance” the ability to glance over a page and read an entire story, broken down into its simplest form, which only takes paragraphs to tell.
It’s like standing on the street and looking at the front of a building, and then from above in a helicopter. You’re still looking at the same building, but your perspective has changed. From the ground, you can’t see the whole building and could easily miss that it has holes in its roof. From the air, not only can you see more of the building, but you can see how the building meshes with the other buildings. How it affects, or doesn’t affect, everything around it.
In my head, the plot-hole in my novel didn’t exist. It wasn’t until I transferred it onto paper, gaining that new perspective, that the holes became obvious.
#4: It shows you where your story-idea needs work:
One of the things that writing an outline really cemented for me over the last week, is that that while I was carrying the story-idea around in my head, I was only seeing one part of it at a time, and subconsciously only focusing my creative energies on one act.
When I got it onto paper I begin to see which parts were the strongest, and which weren’t. For an example, my first Act encompassed three whole pages, while my second and third Acts hardly filled a page and a half.
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Well, I hope that this post has helped you. It’s not always easy, but definitely smarter to learn from somebody else’s mistakes, so take my word for it when I say that while it’s not the most pleasant of task, becoming a plotter, and outlining beforehand saves a lot of time, stress and energy that can be spent on more important things—Like writing your novel.
If you interested in the Outlining process, but just not sure how to go about it, I would definitely recommend K.M. Weiland’s books “Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success” and “Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story”. I have read both of them multiple times and can guarantee that they are an invaluable resource.
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What’s your take? Are you a Pantser? Or a Plotter? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!