That’s what I asked when I was deemed a pantser. Yep pantser. I had no outline setup or plotting structured when I began my actual writing journey. The idea of the story and trajectory of chapters was transparent in my mind’s eye. I watched in daydreams the sequence of actions roll out; scene by scene, character tensions rising with their reactions but everything fell flat, it was surface work. The setup was there, but the emotive was lacking substance and empathy. I needed to dig deeper, pulling all the emotive from within, allowing each layer to unfold. The reader needed to fall into the rabbit hole and ascend the arc with the protagonist cheering her on to the climactic moment of self discovery or as Joseph Campbell’s monomyth reflects; the return from transformation.
I realized mid-way writing my novel I should’ve outlined. I dreaded thinking about being transported back to high school English class when we were instructed the daunting task to outline prior to writing, free hand. I don’t want to date myself but I attended high school before laptops and computers were implemented in the school system; everything we were assigned always required writing by hand. My dear writing partner, J, met me at Lighthouse one Friday 500 afternoon (Lighthouse offers it’s members 2 “free write” days a month to write at least 500 words) offering help on outlining. She taught creative writing at Denver University and had some tips she followed, plus a reference to a writer’s website who offers free downloads of writing guides. K.M. Weiland is one of the websites I signed up for email newsletters AND downloaded her free 5 Secrets of Story Structure. I used the story structure later on and also ordered her Outlining Your Novel Book on my Kindle and the workbooks which, in my opinion are affordable. Click on this link to go straight to her site: K.M. Weiland’s Website. If you’re interested in the outlining book and workbook here’s the link from her page: Outlining Your Novel. The guidance J offered and these newly acquired tools were the benchmark to my outlining path.
If you are a pantser and can’t wrap your head around outlining there are also guides for pantsers, like Annalisa Parent’s Storytelling for Pantsers. I read this as well and found it concise, engaging, witty and resourceful. Annalisa Parent also has her own website as a writing coach if you feel you need external help and can afford those fees (writing coaches charge different fees dependent on their services and your needs.) Her site is cleverly named: A Date With The Muse. The nice thing about signing up with Annalisa’s site is she REGULARLY, and I mean daily, sends emails of various publications looking for writer submissions that pay substantial amounts if selected. She also has a an online writing community you can join called The Writing Gym. These are fee based programs, however signing up for the newsletter is free. She has a podcast and videos to check out.
Back to my outlining journey with J’s help. At Lighthouse J handwrote an outline template that helped her with the basic 3 Act, 27 chapters format if you want to start textbook style or you can develop additional chapters depending on the story length. It was easy enough however, I cringed thinking about high school. J even mentioned that was the negative factor in outlining because plenty of writers think of the high school way of outlining, but many writing coaches, teachers, professors and instructors have created an evolved and robust method of outlining with questions to ask prior to the process. Some outlining activities make it fun with “what if” scenarios sparking your brain to think outside the box.
Consider BEFORE Outlining
- Who is your protagonist and how are they involved in the story
- What is the conflict or situation that arises interrupting your protagonist’s world
- The world around the protagonist; their life, people in their life, setting/location
- What is the main thing that makes your story interesting
- What are the internal and external struggles of the protagonist
I knew these things mentally, but didn’t take the time, narrowing down the details. When you sit and take the time to write out the answers; it forces you to dig deep. I’m going to compile a listing of my favorite writer resource sites and books that helped with extensive Q&A of your story’s needs, wants and goals. I found out later in the game this was important to know up front, BUT didn’t allow this discovery from hindering my writing progress. I plan on working with some major changes and editing with one of the books I mentioned in my previous post when my first novel is in the raw draft form.
I look forward, not back. A few quotes I love to remind myself, no matter what happens in life:
- “It’s never too late to be who you dreamed of becoming”
- “Don’t worry how much time it will take; the time will pass anyway”
- “Don’t Give Up. You Can Do This!”
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Ms. Weiland or Parent. Merely offering my opinions and suggestions on what helped me up to this point in my writing career 🙂