Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Plotters and Pantsers and Outlines, Oh My!

Sooner or later you're going to run into the old debate about plotters and pantsers.

Plotters are folks who outline and do prep work before they start writing their novel. Pansters don't do any of that. They just go in "by the seat of their pants" (hence the term "pantsers.")

Pantsers are the folks who tend to turn their nose up at outlines. They're the ones who say things like "I write about character, not plot." Or "I let the characters tell me the story."

To this I give the ol' one finger salute.

Here's the thing: There is no such thing as pantsing.

What pantsers are actually doing is what I call "micro-outlining."

Even Stephen King, self-professed pantser who says he has never plotted a story in his life, is really a micro-outliner.

What is micro-outlining?

Simple.

Instead of planning out your story in broad strokes, you're working small scale.

A little at a time.

Start with your character in a situation.

Ask "Then what?"

And answer the question.

When you finish answering the question, look at where your character is at. Look at the situation they're in.

Then ask the question again.

And answer it again.

Repeat.

So, really--we're all plotters.

And those "pantsers" who say that they just write to discover the story and after 60,000 words they finally know and can revise with the real story in mind?

Guess what, dude--you just outlined.

Keep this in mind: Plot is key.

You'll hear lots of folks tell you otherwise.

Crap.

That's what it is.

A load of crap.

Look--when someone's telling you a story, what do you usually say when they pause?

Yeah.

"What happened next?"

Right?

That's where plot comes in.

And if your story is gonna work, you need to know your plot.

And that means outlining.

A couple of reasons people hate outlining and plotting:
"It hinders creativity."
and
"I'll be trapped with an outline."
To these I say "bullshit" and "bullshit."

Plotting and using an outline actually sharpens creativity.

Instead of being all over the place in your story, it provides focus (remember when we talked about focus last time?).

It forces you to figure out what your story is about.

Remember this:
STRUCTURE IS YOUR FRIEND.

Another thing to remember:
AN OUTLINE IS NOT SET IN STONE.

The outline, the plot, is a framework.

Broad strokes.

As you write, details that fill in that parts of the framework will come to you based on the characters and situations and the world of the story.

And yes, that can change.

So how do we outline? So do we set up that framework?

Check back next time.

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