3/30/12

How a Pantser Can Keep Their Pants on While Outlining

I've committed a great and terrible sin.  It happened completely by accident, I swear. One minute I was puking notes to my story on the page, the next thing you know....I was organizing them!  Gah!  The horror!

From the get go, I have been a pantser.  Butt in chair and write.  Start with a scene and work my way from there. Loosely keeping in mind that I had to "go somewhere with this story." I'd up the stakes a quarter of the way in, have a halfway peak high, and roll down hill after that until the end, we there's resolution.  Sounds good, right? And each time I did that, it worked.  Of course, there was this little thing called revisions and man oh man, were those rough.  I'd find myself trying to "outline" after the fact.  Which consisted of me recapping the story in bullet points and rearranging the crap out of them.  I was able to make it work but there were a lot of times that I'd get hung up on a plot point because this whole scene was written around it, only to realize the plot point must die.

I still consider myself a pantser, sort of. But what I've done this week on my new MS, has changed my way of writing forever.  Now some people can't even start a story until they have completely outlined it, that will never be me.  I know what my momma said about never say never but ...never. Here's why.  I HAVE to, I mean absolutely positively have to get the story out of me and just start writing.  Because the muse is flowing and information is coming so fast, I have to write it before all those morsels of goodness slip out into the universe and disappear forever. (I forgot shit easy.)

This is how a pantser can keep their pants on while outlining:

Jot down some notes.  Start writing your intro scene.  Puke more notes and decide to organize them, which means format them into bullet points.  Write some more or your story.  Get brilliant idea for random scenes throughout the book and make a bunch of chicken scratch notes on that.  Write more story.  Stop.  Realize you need to organize, like for real organize and start to put those thoughts in some kind of logical order.

Funny thing this so called "logical order."  It's very similar too but not quite like...an outline.  Yes, say it again with me kiddos; outline.  Don't be afraid of it.  It won't hurt you.  Now pet it, go on. Give it a good rub on the belly.  "Good, outline." See, it won't bite.

Meet Outline.  He's says, "Rub my belly!"
At this point I panicked, called Ara (also known as, Writer Freakout Hotline Operator) and she talked me off the cliff by reminding me of this thing called "Acts of a Book."  This sounded vaguely familiar. I remember doing something like this over a year ago (by The Plot Whisperer).  It had worked for a bit, then I got totally frustrated and said screw outlining.  With Ara's advice I broke my book into four quarters (instead of the 3 Plot Whisper does. Even though my 2nd and 3rd quarter equal the size of her mid-section. I needed to separate them for better clarification.)

Here is what I did: (And Ara, if I'm way off base, let me know.)

ACT I
Start with Inciting Incident, first chapter. (See this great article here.)
End 1/4 into book with first plot point.
ACT II
Run with first plot point. Run like your ass is on fire and you need to find water.
End 1/2 way through the book with Peak High (the life-can't-get-any-better-than-this feeling.)
ACT III
Burst your MC's bubble.  Shit goes from bad to bloody freaking awful.
End 3/4 in with you MC on the edge of suicide. (Not really, unless it's an issue book, then yes, go ahead.)
ACT IV
Okay shit sucks but MC finds a way to continue on and maybe there IS some resolution
End Book with rainbows and sunshine (LGBTQ or not) and whether it's the perfect hollywood ending or just closure, you may now end your book.
THE END

Aww, wasn't that a good bedtime story, boys and girls?

So does this pantser have an outline.  For the record, I WILL NEVER CALL IT AN OUTLINE. It is an  ever growing, somewhat semi-organized, thought/character/scene/dialog purging bullet point of notes for my manuscript.  And yes, that is the "technical" file name I have it saved as.

Can you fell that, kiddos? That frenzied excitement in my post here.  I'm on FIRE. Fire I tell you, and this manuscript has freed me. Because, I'm doing what Ellen Hopkins told me to, "write the story that scares you."  I promise you peeps, when you do, the muse will be good to you.

So, how about you, pantser, outliner, or undecided?

4 comments :

  1. Who-hoo! You go Dana. Outlines oh outlines. They are necessary evils sometimes are they not? My favorite sum up of an outline is:something happens (first act) AND THEN this happens (second act) BUT THEN (third act) this is really how it end. One of my teachers loves the And Then/But Then set up. Happy Writing!

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  2. Gretchen! I love that summary of an outline. It sooo feels like that, doesn't it? I miss you sweets! We need to meet for coffee. Talk manuscripts.

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  3. I always start with a brain dump in a spiral notebook and then a sort into a rough structure. From then on I pants. I do outline after the first draft to check for holes and flow.

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  4. You're so funny, Dana! Yeah, I guess calm happens after you've been working at it this long. Anxious to see the new story. Sounds like it's going to be great! : )

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