What Happens When a Pantser Plots?

Calendar in my NaNo Book

For years I have suffered a debilitating disease of UNABLE to Plot. I’ve taken classes and courses, bought books and listened to other authors, but when it comes down to plotting and outlining, I freeze up. This year for NaNoWriMo, after listening to several YouTube videos and webinars, I decided to give it another try.

In the past when I thought of outlining my story I’d break out in hives. I might get as far a A.2.b.3. before completely freaking out because nothing was adding up or equaling out. It was inevitable. I couldn’t stand that it wasn’t the way I’d always been taught it had to be. English teachers y’all have destroyed my mojo. It is impossible to get the exact same number of bullet points per letter for each topic, plot point, story beat. I CAN’T do it! It makes me nuts. I know, some of you know I’m already nuts but this just adds to it.

I’d start to feel like I didn’t know what to do and wanted to scream!

I did it! I outlined my story for NaNoWriMo!

Oh-my-gosh, really? But I’m a pantser.

What am I doing plotting? Why am I even trying? What is this madness? It’s called NaNoWriMo, shhh.

Because I’m doing NaNo (National Novel Writing Month Challenge) and I know in order to write faster, fifty thousand words in one month, am I crazy, yes, I need to pull out all the tricks. I’ve worked on character sheets, sticky note ideas and reminders, and I just finished outlining my story.

Am I really outlining and planning my story? Huh, that’s not how I write, is it?

Well, in truth, as a pantser, I usually just sit down at the computer and write. The ideas just come to me as I’m writing, well sometimes, and other times, I have to put in a place holder like “Something needs to happen here,” or “make the character do X or Y.”

I’ve wrote scenes with complete details and felt I had them just right and then the next scene might be “why would he do this?” While outlining my story I’ve used a few of my “placeholder” tricks. It’s not a real outline. It’s a barebones rough draft with a list of a few things I want included in the story. I also have a few questions and challenges. My outline looks nothing like what my English teacher told me an outline should be, but I think it gives me an idea of where I want to go in the story without fencing me in.

One of the biggest differences between pansters and plotters is y’all know where you want to go with the story and all the steps for how to get there. Pantsers might know where we’re hoping to end up, but we have no idea how we’re going to get there, and we may change our minds halfway through the story. For us, writing the story is the journey, if we know too much it ruins the fun.

With writing a series I’ve come to know my characters, the storyline and how I want the overall series to end but I still come up with new characters and new ideas that I want to incorporate into it. Some of the ideas make it into the story, or I save for future books, others get edited out or don’t even get written. I think of writing like a puzzle, I know one of my main characters really well but one of them is still a mystery. I have a few facts but I’m still getting to know him or her. I know my antagonists and my antihero but am I going to allow him a point of view? While some of you may know your character’s birth sign, color of underwear and if they like jazz, rock or country. I’m lucky to remember their hair and eye color and if they have any physical tells.

NaNo is about writing a rough draft and writing it quickly. While I’ll write my outline and try to follow it as closely as I can, I also know that as a panster I have to allow myself the freedom to spread my wings and fly. Just as long as I fly in the right direction, it’s all good.  

So those of you who are pantsers and want to try writing an outline, why not just write what you want to happen in each chapter. A one- or two-line synopsis of what happens or a question you need to answer. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Use what works for you. Good luck and I’ll see you later.

If you’re NaNoing, I’m Pamlico Writer, I could use a buddy to help me through and I’d be happy to do the same for you.

My working cover
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