Exploring Pantser and Plotting Approaches to Fiction

Anyone looking for how-to tips on novel writing is bound to come across the old debate about whether to outline a book before typing a single word or to just sit down and write. I’ve experimented with both and have found that what works best for me is somewhere between those options.

When I wrote my first mystery, I didn’t create an outline. I simply faced the blank page and wrote down whatever came to mind. This is the pantser method, although I didn’t know the term way back then. Many times I had to go back and fill in the plot holes and logistical issues.

For the second book, I decided to spend more time plotting the novel first by creating a chapter-by-chapter outline. It became important to know who was killed and why before I started writing. Now, this sometimes changed once I got into my second and third rewrites while sorting out the story’s development. It’s also why I believe that flexibility with outlines is important.

Ten books later, I still outline with those key questions in mind, but primarily just for the first third of the book. For the middle section, or second act, I jot down key elements and plot twists that I want to happen. By the last third, there’s almost no outlining as the story is set up to reach a logical conclusion, hopefully one with a twist.

When I began my writing my urban fantasy, I decided to try the pantser version again. Despite the pitfalls, it just felt important to free myself and let the ideas and connections unfold without direction from an outline. Before I started writing, I did a lot of thinking though, and did have four main characters in mind and a good idea of what the book’s theme would be. On this sixth, intense draft I’m going through now, I’m still working on nuance issues and connections that I wish I’d thought of in earlier drafts. Would outlining have helped with that? I don’t know.

After reading every draft, I make notes along the way, which probably sounds familiar to you authors out there. The further into the edits I get, the more I need to check my notes, which is what happened this week. To ramp up the excitement, I introduced another element, which forced me to go back five chapters and rewrite the scene, which created a domino effect for most of the remaining chapters. Despite going back, I’m still moving forward with my improvements, so that’s a good thing. I just wish I’d been a little faster at picking up on the nuances and connections. Thank goodness I’m not writing to deadline or I’d be really hooped.

When I was writing essays and articles twenty years ago, outlining key points was essential, as was giving careful thought to the message I wanted to convey. If I return to nonfiction, outlining will be essential. Should I get around to writing a second fantasy, there will definitely be more outlining but who knows how much?

There are a number of online quizzes to help you determine if you’re a pantser or a plotter, but really the best way to decide is to try both. So, I’m curious about my author friends out there, which method do you use, or have you got a completely different method?

Inspiration from Game of Thrones. Who Knew?

18679295525_f39cc1bc70_z[1]If you’re a Game of Thrones fan like our family is, Sunday, April 14th was a big day, as it launched the beginning of Season 8, the show’s final season. I wasn’t completely waiting with baited breath, as I had plenty of other things to tend to on Sunday before show time.

One of my tasks was to edit a chapter of the urban fantasy I’ve been working on for some time. I always work on it Sunday mornings before spending the afternoon with my mother. Honestly, I didn’t really think about the manuscript the rest of the day.

After the visit and a few more chores, we sat down to watch the show. If you haven’t seen this series, you should know that it has some of the most creative and entertaining opening credits I’ve ever seen. And that’s when it happened.

I’m listening to the music and watching images of heavy square floor panels open and close when an idea for a second fantasy novel bounded into my head. And then another. I grabbed a sheet of paper and pen and started scribbling down everything I was thinking while the credits went on. By the time the first scene opened (there was no dialogue for at least a couple of minutes) I was still scribbling, and managed to write a page and a half on a notepad before the first word was uttered.

Once they were, I fell into their world and forgot all about mine, which seemed perfectly logical, given that I’m writing a modern day urban fantasy set here in British Columbia. Game of Thrones is completely different. Or is it?

Aside from the main plot, the quest to sit on the throne and rule the seven kingdoms, GoT is a story about relationships, trust, betrayal, love, ambition, and battles for the right to control the world.

As it happens, the components aren’t that different from my current WIP, albeit with healing-focused themes and significantly different twists in my work. Those opening credits last Sunday, however, inspired an idea about how to take the themes and aspects in my first book to a whole new level in a second book.

You might find it strange that I’ve never read one of George R.R. Martin’s novels. But, hey, that’s okay. The TV series is amazing and clearly, the opening credits are inspiring enough for the moment.