Panster – or Reluctant Plotter
True confession: I’m a pantser. I discover the plot of my novel by writing it – I am a very, very reluctant plotter.
This makes the writing process compelling; I never know what will happen next. However, it can also make the process extremely time-consuming. There’s been a few times that I’ve had to back up the truck (so to speak) and delete irrelevant sections.
It’s taken about seven books (and a lot of wasted energy) to figure out a process that works for me. Here it is.
Reluctant Plotter Process:
- Go for a long walk
- Decide on the main premise.
- Discover the main characters (also called MCs). Because it’s a romance, Born in Blood has two MCs: Brett and Madison.
- Jot down your story arc
- Summary outline
- Write the darn thing
The story I’m writing at the moment, Born in Blood, is about a vampire Hunter who falls in love.
To write Born in Blood, I had to understand my MC’s backstories, hopes, wounds. I had to know where they lived. What their hobbies are, and what they look like. Most importantly, I had to understand their thought processes and the language they used.
Side note: It’s not easy to develop fictional characters. For Born in Blood, I wrote short stories; scenes of pivotal moments in their lives. This helped develop Madison’s voice and revealed her motivations. Crazy, I know – given she’s totally fictional, and thus a creature of my imagination, but hey, until your characters begin reacting by themselves, you won’t have a story.
Once I have a handle on my characters, the story is a whole lot easier to write. Because then I know how they’ll respond to the many conflicts and pains that they’ll soon be facing.
Madison and Brett don’t know it yet, but they’ll be under stress through the whole entire story.
A story is putting your characters up a tree and throwing rocks at them.
Once I know how my characters will respond, I cement their reactions into a story arc.
Master Class has a neat little summary of the classical story arc. :
- Rising Action
- Falling Action
Traditionally, this is done in three acts (also called the three-act structure) .
I write my story arc on a large piece of paper (I like an A3), and using a black marker, I scribble what needs to happen to meet the arc’s requirements. Some people use post-it notes, others use a whiteboard. Some writers use a spreadsheet – that to me, is too far 🙂
Because I’m not a massive plotter, I find the action of writing/drawing/making a mess on paper helps.
Once I know the basic elements of the arc, I create the plot outline. Because I’m lazy, I use a template: a list of the key scenes used in a particular genre.
I put the arc on a piece of A3 paper, and write next to the key moments that will form the main events in the story. I call these events ‘plot points’ and I write all my scenes toward a plot point.
Some folks call these ‘beats’ – but to me, a beat suggests movement; a rhythm that drives the story. Not an actual scene. That’s why I use the term ‘plot points’, because to me, these points hang the story together.
It may take a few scenes to reach a plot point. Usually, to reach each plot point, there’s a build-up scene, a connecting scene, and finally a scene where the whole plot point takes place.
I try to structure each scene so it, like a story arc, has a lead-in, dramatic event, and conclusion. The dramatic element doesn’t have to be high action (although often it is!) – it might be internal transformation.
When plotting, don’t just think about the events that happen in the story. You also need to be mindful of your character(s) internal changes. To create a truly satisfying story, your MC(s) have to transform.
After my rough, paper-based draft, I input the outline into Plottr.
I’m still learning how to use this tool. Not being a dyed-in-the-wool plotter, I’m not totally in love. To be honest, I prefer a pen and a big sheet of paper. BUT the software helps keep a handle on characters, settings and action points, so I don’t have to hold every person in my head.
I’ve also found it useful for continuity. After I’ve finished a chapter, I add the key events into the software. This helps me remember who said what, when. Saves character’s repeating themselves or mentioning something out of sequence. (I could export the plot into word or scrivener at this point, but as yet, I haven’t bothered.)
Some writers use Scrivener to help them outline – plus, they write the story directly into Scrivener. This product hasn’t worked for me, but as it comes with a free trial, you may find it worth a try.
Starting to Write
Obviously, the best outline is nothing without a story.
I write in Word (MSOffice 365), and I turn on the ‘view navigation pane’ to help move through the story. This helps keep track of where I am in the story. By the time your novel hits 70,000 words believe me, you need to be able to move around the story quickly.
Here’s a video on how to use Word’s navigation pane:
Word can be buggy, especially if you muck around with the formatting. That’s generally because of a style error. If you’re not sure of how to use Word styles, here’s a blog post that may help.
By the time I’m 10,000 word in, I’ll usually have both the Style guide and the navigation pane visible.
After that, it is simply a matter of writing the words onto the page.
Ha! that’s the hardest part.