Outline Versus “Pantster”
Some writers plot their every move. Others write by what’s called “the seat of their pants,” moving from scene to scene without any idea of what will happen next.
I’ve used both methods over the years and have evolved into a plotter. While it’s emotionally entertaining to have the story roll out in front of you as you write, not having an idea of where your manuscript is going can result in a completely different tale than when you started. (Or worse, it’ll fade into this amorphous cloud of ambiguousness that will take extra editing work to fix.)
Initially I only had character, scene and “what if?” What if Xena, Warrior Princess, was a Highlander-style immortal and ran across the modern-day reincarnation of her bard? What if a song that “celebrates” the shame and denigration of rape had been written by a woman?
I’d introduce the characters and then wonder what would happen next, writing that scene.
Such a course made for some intriguing subconscious connections, but I inevitably ended up with massive edits. Since I’ve begun outlining my novels in advance, I’ve had less issues with plot-holes or the need to write new scenes needed due to my lack of attention.
Three Disasters & A Climax
Outlines don’t have a stranglehold on your novel. When I initially began my foray into outlining, the whole concept was very constricting. The eighteenth scene in the novel would change because of something that occurred in the sixth. Or I’d reach a scene only to realize it had been easier to insert its relevance into another one earlier in the book.
Despite being anal-retentive, this writer had a tough time dealing with the rigid nature of outlining, lemme tell ya.
Eventually I learned to create a handful of scenes that were written in stone. The rest could twist and morph as needed for the storyline. Eureka!
Only four scenes are vital to the ongoing plot of my tales: three disasters and the climax.
Let’s take my fourth Sanguire novel, Lady Dragon, as example:
The ruling council of the European Sanguire have arrived en masse to negotiate with The Davis Group. One of them has hired secret assassins and one has outright called for Whiskey’s blood.
* Introductions abound as the political faction arrives at Whiskey’s base of operations. Once the social niceties are met (and no bloodshed has occurred) they’re escorted to their temporary residences. An unannounced guest arrives…Whiskey’s future mother-in-law, the woman who despises her. What will Orlaith O’Toole do when they meet face-to-face. Where do her loyalties lie?
* En route to a diplomatic function, a car accident occurs–the second disaster. Whiskey is seriously injured and no one knows what will occur. Will she survive so that one of the Euros can personally kill her? Or will she die, leaving that Euro with no satisfaction but another with the path toward complete control now clear?
* In the third disaster, Whiskey survives her injuries but two Euros have banded together, contriving a way to cause Whiskey to call out her primary detractor in a duel to the death. Whiskey and her board are aware of what they’re doing and Whiskey chooses to escalate the vitriole between them, seemingly falling into their trap by challenging one of them to a duel.
* The climax is the duel that occurs between Whiskey and her second, Valmont, and the two European council members that oppose her.
The Nuts & Bolts
So I have a storyline in mind, I know the characters and setting. I have a pretty good idea of the “candy bar” scenes I want to write as well as what sorts of disasters I want to throw at my characters. How do I plot the novel?
I grab a legal pad and number every other line, 1-50. That corresponds to fifty scenes for the book and gives me a couple of lines for notes. (Yes, fifty scenes is a pretty standard beginning for me. I won’t necessarily keep all fifty or I’ll discover a need to add new scenes as I write. This is just a basic start.)
Figure the first eight or ten scenes will be character introductions and getting them to the point of meeting each other.
At #10 I’ll place an asterisk next to it and jot down one of my disaster scenes.
At #25 I’ll do it again with the second disaster scene.
At #35-ish I’ll repeat for the third disaster.
At #45 I’ll place the climax.
Then I fill in the rest, using the “if this then that” algoryhthmn. (If Orlaith O’Toole shows up in this scene from Margaurethe’s POV, then next will come a scene from Whiskey’s POV as she deals with the potential emotional repercussions for the unannounced visit.)
After that I plug the whole thing into Scrivener and color code each scene by the character point of view. (But that’s a whole ‘nother blog entry!)
Pantsers and Plotsters!
For those plodding plotters out there, what methods do you use to build your books? And what about you pantsters? Any hints or tricks that you use to keep your plotlines fluid without completely washing away? Do tell! Click below and comment! I’d love to hear from you!