At this stage in my quest for becoming a professional novelist, I still have a stocked fortress of energized ideas just waiting to burst through my fingers and onto my screen at any given moment.
Thus, my year-2 journey back into the mysterious land of Noveldom will begin in The Outlines.
For the next three months, the story that I’ll be working on is tentatively titled: Snowe Storms and it follows the murderous daughter of Sinterklaas (a.k.a. Santa Claus) on her quest to avenge her father’s death during the Cold War.
But if there’s one thing I learned from my first time through Noveldom it’s this: pantsing will show you what you can create, but outlines will show you where your creation can go.
I love the debate on whether pantsing or outlining is the best way to approach writing novels. I love that both styles seem to be equally beneficial, enough so to warrant a debate.
But consider all of the examples in life that prove which of those two styles is consistently best.
When you go to war, do you wing it, or do you plan it? Those that plan, most often win their war.
When you go to college, do you wing it, or do you plan years in advance?
In fact, when you pause to think about it, it seems most good things are planned
And that’s not to say that whimsical, risky, spontaneous choices are not also good things. The cosmos can attest to all of the ridiculous wonders my life has yielded due to sheer whimsy.
But for big things, meaningful things, things that I don’t feel the most confident about to begin with…planning tends to work wonders.
WHY PANTSING ONLY WORKS WHEN THERE’S A CROWD TO MOON:
Pantsing can be extraordinarily helpful. It can. It truly, truly can.
But there’s no denying that anyone who finds themselves pantsing could easily take ten minutes and pump up the jam on their story beyond what their pantsing dreams could’ve ever aspired to produce.
The simple fact is: pansting serves a purpose for creative expression, and that’s not what creating a novel is all about.
If you want your story to be mysterious, incorporate various story arcs, intermesh plot lines and motivations and backstories, then honey, you’re gonna need yourself an outline.
Novels are creative expression, of course. But they’re also highly analytical expressions, piecing together various storyline components to leave behind mysterious crumbs that keep your readers ensnared long enough to witness your genius finale.
There’s no denying that a book can be written using a pansting method entirely and still be interesting. I just argue that if you’re concerned with your ideas being interesting right out of the gate, then an outline would surely ease your doubts.
AFTER WRITING MY FIRST NOVEL, I CAN SEE THE BENEFIT OF A PANTS-ON/OUTLINE-ON, PANTS-OFF/OUTLINE-DOWN METHOD
I came up with the concept for my first novel in a state of unleashed pansting.
I really let’er rip with an idea that I thought gave me enough material to dummy-proof any possibility of failure.
And for the record: I was right.
Not only did I finish that book, but I had more than enough characters, possibilities, plots lines, and story arcs leftover to fill out ten more just like it if I were so inclined.
But because I didn’t think through all of the possibilities for that storyline, I didn’t end up writing a story that I loved. Instead, I wrote a story that was easy to write, ensuring that I would get it done and it would make sense to all who read its pages…BUT, it wasn’t a story I absolutely adored.
What I learned from that experience is that pantsing should be used strategically, not whimsically.
I learned that when I take the time to put together an outline, I should leave my pants on, as it were, during that time. Instead of winging my way through each chapter (“pantsing”), I now methodically think through a variety of possibilities for my characters and then choose the most exciting avenue to write about. So far, my outlined chapter concepts have consistently beat out my pantser chapter concepts.
Likewise, when I write a new chapter, I now do so by putting my outline down and letting my inner pantser run wild. She can make up anything she wants, even stretch outside of the outline if she’s got an idea worth throwing down (and sometimes, she does).
DAY 2 AND I’VE GOT AN OUTLINE WORTH RAVING ABOUT
I did the good thing and created two outlines: one that I pantsed my way through, the other where I created alternatives to my pantsed outlined to increase the action.
Because of the extra time I contributed to my outline, I now have a way more exciting storyline than I would’ve had if I left it up to my wild-child pantsing innards.
Here are some tips I jotted down along the way to help turn your pantsed outline into an enhanced outline:
1. LISTEN TO THE RED FLAGS
At times, I could intuitively feel that something was off with a chapter concept, but I’d hesitate to cut the concept or fill out other options. THAT NEEDS TO STOP. If you’re sensing red flags, pay attention! They’re easy to resolve, just use your endless imagination to come up with a more exciting alternative.
2. EXPLORE ALL POSSIBILITIES
For my first chapter, I explored five different scenarios, each one vastly different than its comrades. And now, not only do I have a killer first chapter full of intrigue, but I also have four other chapters that are able to be reworked into the storyline at various times. My advice? Explore everything you can think of and put your character into some interesting situations!
3. DON'T SHY AWAY
From anything! Be it a genre style that comes to mind but makes you uncomfortable, or a character death you didn’t want to face. Let everything get noted and then decide what stays and goes. You never know when a bomb in your storyline is actually creating the catalyst for something much grander down the road.
4. FIVE AT A TIME OR ALL AT ONCE
I found that I enjoy outlining five chapters at a time, then taking a break to write for those five chapters. I don’t fill out everything and I certainly don’t get specific with any plot points, but in this way I maintain active with my storyline and engaged with outlining. If you can outline the whole thing (each chapter getting five revisions) before you start writing a thing, more power to ya!