August 1, 2017

Hazards of Outlining for a Pantser

August 1st, 2017. Can you believe it? (Really, can you?) I can't. But rather than dwell on that disturbing reality, I wanted to talk about outlines.

Plotters—people who like to plan (often every detail of) their stories before beginning to write—swear by things like outlines. They frequently advise everyone to figure out what the story will look like, chapter by chapter or even scene by scene, to make sure that the story hits the plot arc when necessary, that it comes together into a cohesive and hopefully compelling story. They swear by this method, because it saves time in revisions, keeps the writer focused when writing, and allows the drafting process to be so much faster! 

For them. 

As a pantser—the type of writer who prefers to sit down to a blank page and see where the story goes—outlines can often end up to be tremendous wastes of time. And let's not forget, all that time plotters "save" on writing, they're probably using on outlining. And because that works for them, letting them focus on the drafting with everything already figured out, that's great! 

But lately I keep seeing people really pushing every writer to outline. And some newer writers, even ones who know they're pantsers, end up pressured—or even bullied—into doing it, having been assured it's the way "real" writers do it. 

Well, there are reasons pantsers don't. Something I was reminded of quite recently. 

Stuck on a plane, I was actually reading a book—hard to believe, I know. Except this book's core premise was ticking me off a bit, and as much as I tried to keep going, every mention of this one aspect to the female MC irked me. So I had the idea of doing the opposite. How could I make it happen, and make it believable?

Over the rest of the flight, I wrote out a brief outline of what that story could look like, who these two MCs would be and how they could believably connect with each other while dealing with this "BIG ISSUE." I ended up writing over 2,000 words. 

So why is this a problem?

For one thing, pantsers who do try planning often find all that time and effort wasted once they (ahem, we) try to write. While I don't tend to outline, I've certainly jotted down notes with plans for later scenes in a WIP. Invariably, those ideas never come to fruition because that's just not how the story comes out. When it came to Bobby's story, trying to stick to the plan I mentally started with resulted in a huge block until I finally threw out that whole preconceived notion of how the story should go and got back to just writing.

For another, and I'm speaking for myself here but probably for some other pantsers as well: we get bored. Once I know how the story goes, how the characters meet, what their conflict is, and how that conflict ends up resolved—if I've already figured out all of those scene-by-scene details—I just don't have that much interest left in writing that story. 

So now I have those 2000 words and an outline. A part of me still hopes I'll end up quickly drafting out a full story someday (once I'm done with the current novella of course). But chances are greater that story, those characters, will never see the light of day. Maybe if I hadn't been on a plane, typing notes on an iPad (so uncomfortable), things would have been different.

Because for pantsers, figuring out all those pieces and getting them to fit together, seeing the story unfold from our words... Well, that's half the fun. 

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