Planning your novel is our focus for February. By the end of the month, you’ll have decided what category of writer you fall into (Pantser vs. Outliner) and you’ll develop a written springboard to help you set the pace for your new writing adventure.
Before we get to the meat of this article, let’s take a look at the two basic ways to approach novel writing: Pantsing vs. Outlining.
Pantsing is an endearing term applied to the behavior of writers who don’t feel it necessary to organize their novel into regimented parts from Chapters and Scenes all the way through Plot Development and individual Character Arcs. These writers, known as Pantsers, feel planning your novel is unnecessary. They believe your muse will write your story for you as you go along and you should give her free rein for best results.
Until this year, I was one such writer.
The thought of doing an outline was, in my mind, akin to spending the day cleaning toilets: Unpleasant, mind-numbing work that no one in their right mind volunteers to do. How should I know where my story was going to lead? After all, I started with only the barest nugget of an idea — I would let the muse figure out the rest.
Plenty of authors swear that setting up a detailed outline of your story saves time and rewriting in the long run. Planning your novel through careful outlining is a great way to work out some of the kinks in your plot ahead of time.
Some writers do a simple chapter-by-chapter outline with a brief one or two sentence synopsis of the action occurring in each chapter. Others break it down further, adding synopses for scenes in each chapter as well. If outlining is your jam, you can even outline each character’s story arc and specific sub-plot points.
Whether you fly by the seat of your pants or get in the weeds with outlining, planning your novel is a necessary evil. Yes, Virginia, even Pantsers can benefit from a bit of thinking ahead. Outlining, or at least thinking through, your basic storyline will help keep your plot strong and your goals clear.
Nothing is worse than getting hijacked mid-plot when some pesky little subplot takes over the limelight, forcing you to either go back and rewrite what you’ve already done or change the story to fit your new endgame.
And all that rewriting and reorganizing can sometimes result in a fragmented tale or one without a strong central theme, and that can spell disaster: U-N-S-A-L-E-A-B-L-E.
I mentioned that until this year I was a Pantser. You’d never catch me writing Roman numerals on a paper or worrying that I needed three acts with nine subcategories. That is, until I started my latest novel — a work of somewhat epic proportions.
After the first chapter, I realized this very detailed and complicated story could quickly get away from me, and I did the unthinkable — I gave in and wrote the dreaded outline.
I began with a one-sentence synopsis of each chapter and I followed the typical story pattern (more on that next week!) It was easy — almost effortless — and now, at Chapter 22, I realize how much it has helped keep me on track.
Does planning your novel entail sacrificing your muse on the altar of necessity? Hell, no. My muse is alive and well, thank you, and she has even written part of the story herself as usual, causing me to have to go back and revise my outline at least once.
Outlines are not set in stone. They are guidelines only, and, as such, are as fluid as you need them to be. They can be as complex or as simple as you like. And if a Pantser like me can manage a rudimentary plan, anyone can!
See you on the next page!