From Pantser to Plotter: The Surprising Magic of Outlining
What’s up, party people?
Imagine if I started every bloggy out that way? That would get super annoying super fast. OK, one and done. Over and out.
I read a book a couple weeks ago. I know, right? How stoked am I to be reading books?! This book had a title and the title was … hold on, I want to get this right.
Take Off Your Pants
That’s not a request. It sounds like an order, actually. And it is! For me anyway, taking off my pants is a tall order, but a necessary one.
What am I talking about?
There are two types of writers: those who write and those who don’t. For the longest time, I fell into the latter, more woebegone camp. You have a story in your head but it never comes out because when you sit down to write it (if you ever do), you fly by the seat of your pants. It’s fun, but it drives you straight into the wall over and over again. You end up having to rewrite, reimagine, and thoroughly cut, destroy, and implement new matter from out of nowhere. It’s an exhausting process that’s been discussed here on this bloggy more than a few times, yet strangely, here we find ourselves again. Why is that? Maybe it’s because plotting is super important and it’s time we all take off our pants! Come and join me, won’t you?
Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker is a must-read for anyone who has ever started a writing project and, whether it be 500, 5,000, or 50,000 words later, inevitably crashed head-on into that wall. I’ve been there, the crash test dummy in the driver’s seat, way too many times. And sure, other writers and teachers have tried to help me by saying, “You should try plotting out your novel. It could make things go a lot smoother.” Yeah yeah yeah, sure thing Mr. Knows A Lot About Creativity, I’ll get right on that. Why oh why did I never listen?
In the book, Hawker lays out a plan for storytelling. Call it a guideline or roadmap for plot structure, if you will. Because that’s what it is. It has all the usual suspects such as protagonist, antagonist, theme, etc. But it also explores such important building blocks such as “inciting event” and “external goal.” I won’t go into exactly what these things are here, mainly because I want you to buy Hawker’s book (it’s currently 99 cents on Kindle). She lays it all out in a particular order and asks you, the writer and God of your creation, to join her in putting together your masterpiece, one point at a time.
I daresay Hawker’s outlining process she puts forth worked rather well for me. I was stuck at around 20,000 words and no clue where to go next with my current work-in-progress. Upon reading her book, I decided my first attempt was a valiant effort but sadly only good for naming characters. So I trashed it and started fresh with, of all things, a PEN AND PAPER! I can’t remember the last time I wrote longhand. It was exhilarating, folks. I followed Hawker’s direction and carefully crafted the beats my story should take.
And of course, you can always pants your way through a carefully pre-designed plot. Writing wouldn’t be fun if you weren’t able to surprise yourself with new, meandering sidetracks on a daily basis. As long as you hit your marks at all the right moments, you should be golden.
Having a full outline from which to work, I have already accumulated a good chunk of new chapters along this (hopefully) productive path. I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that I won’t end up trashing this pre-outlined draft, but it seems unlikely.
KNOCK ON ALL THE WOOD!
I just need to keep plowing away through the carefully crafted outline. The ideas are strong but the execution of individual sentences are weak. That’s not Hawker’s fault. That’s just the damnation of a first draft. There’s nothing you can do about that except edit and/or rewrite when the time is right.
In the meantime… outline, be a plotter not a pantser. I’m a convert! I’ve converted! I hear the angels sing and the band play on!
You can change too, friend. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your potential, future readers. Don’t they deserve the best story plottable?
Welp, I just invented a new word and it looks like “plot table.” That’s probably my cue to get out now. Although, if you think about it, a plot table would not be the worst thing you could spend your money on. A world-ending super bomb holds that bo(o)mbastic price tag.
Buy this book, pantsers! Let me know how it all works out: your outlining, your writing, your ever-loving story!
Get on it.