Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Writing Methods

Pantser. Outliner. We've all heard the terms. All used them. But there are those of us who refuse to be put in one category or the other. Those of us who hate choosing one thing over another, especially when it comes to writing.

Personally, I walk the line between both methods. And you know what? It works for me. I can't just write and write without knowing where I'm going, but I can't know every single step of the journey either.

And I know I'm not the only one who has this problem.

Pantsers often hit road blocks while writing, or they get 100 pages in and realize the story isn't going in the right direction, something's not right, and it all went wrong 25 pages back. This. Sucks. On the other hand, Outliners sometimes, (okay, more than sometimes) find that once they've written out what's going to happen, once they know for sure where everything is going, the magic is gone. There's no point in going on, no point in writing it out anymore.

Any of this sounding familiar?

So what do I do? A bit off both, or what I like to call the Half-Ass Outline Method. You can call it something else if you'd like. I tend to start out with an idea and my MC. I know who she is, and why it's her story. From there I'll do a synopsis of the first few chapters, not terribly in depth, just a couple of paragraphs telling me what's going on and who all's involved. That's all I do. And then I open my shiny new Word document and I start first drafting. I don't look at the handwritten paragraphs, because I already know the bare bones of what's going to happen, I just have no clue how it all fits together, how my characters feel or react to things, what the setting is like. All of that is new as I write.

Then, when I get to the end of my synopsis, I have a choice: I can either keep writing if I'm on a roll and know what I want/where the story's taking me, or I can stop and do it all over again.

My synopsis isn't detailed. It isn't in bullet form with three other points under a bigger point. It's a few paragraphs, often I don't even mark where each chapter goes. I'll know it when I see it. And I definitely don't go into detail over scenes. Sometimes I even have multiple scenes wrapped up together in a sentence or two, and I flush that out into five pages or so.

This is what I'm doing right now for my current WIP. I know a few of the major plot points that are coming: there'll be a war, my MC will lose people she cares about but ultimately succeed in her goal, and she'll see her parents again. But a whole lot more than that will happen in between.

The thing I like about my method, is that I get the best of both worlds: I have a little bit of structure without taking away the surprise and the magic of figuring out the story as I write it. I still get shocked by things this way, by unexpected scenes and reactions. And I love it.

So, what's your method of writing? Do you have one? If not, you're more than welcome to try mine.


Jade said...

This is the second post I've read on this topic today and what's even more amusing is my post is also very similar. Great minds and all.

My approach is similar. Sometimes I outline, sometimes I don't. With my current WiP I know the basic idea of the story and I'm just making the rest up as I go.

Jorgh said...

I've been blabbing about this on my blog a bit, though not in much depth. I recently tried the outline method and I got a bit bored making it and quit halfway to resume writing. It has helped me keep from getting blocked but at the same time I've veered far off the planned path already.

I think it's nice to have one, but let it be lenient. A possible outcome.

Piedmont Writer said...

I panster my way through Chapter 10 then I generally have to make some kind of 'Half-Ass Outline' for the end. If I follow it too strictly, it does indeed take the love out of the finishing of it, so I just free flow until I get it finished. Nice post.

Kelley Vitollo said...

I'm a line walker too. I usually have a few key scenes in my head and then just sit down and write. I go where the story takes me. Sometimes I get into trouble and other times, it sparks something else and then I jot a few things down. In the beginning, I always just let myself go though!

Kathryn said...

I think my style is a bit like yours: I come up with a character or an idea and kind of branch out from there. Some of my best scenes have come, though, from just sitting down and letting the thoughts flow on to paper (actual paper instead of typing, helps more for me). If I just let my pen go at it, I find I get more insights from the characters and where they want to go instead of outlining the exact procedure of the novel.

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm mostly a pantster - with a finish line in sight. I tend to start with the final scene in mind (don't know why). I let this sit around in my subconscious for a bit, then the opening scene tends to pop in. Then I write.

I love seeing how others think and work - great post!

Anassa said...

I'm more or less the same as you. I'll do a very rough outline for where I think the story's heading, and then start writing. I tend to come up with ideas on the fly, so having a rough outline means I can alter it as I go, if I have to, without feeling guilty for "straying" from what I said I'd do. Quite often I end up surprising myself by where the story goes, and I like that.


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