Maybe Pantsers really should do a little Outlining.

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THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN the great debate in the catch-as-catch-can world of writing.

Should you take the time to outline your novel?

That’s what my wife does.

By the time she outlines each chapter, about all she has to do is go through, add punctuation, and make sure some participle isn’t dangling like a noose.

Or should you simply sit down with an idea and fly by the seat of your pants on a mad dead run from start to finish.

That’s what I do.

There’s no right or wrong way to write a novel.

We all have our own quirks, and if they work, they work.

Sue Coletta
Sue Coletta

A month ago, however, Sue Coletta, one of the country’s really fine writers threw a monkey wrench into the whole debate.

Why not do both?

She wrote in Caleb and Linda Pirtle:

I have always considered myself a pantser, as I’ve said many times. I was recently approached by author/writing coach Joel D Canfield who invented an outlining program for pantsers called Outline Your Story in 12 Sentences. Sounds to good to be true, right? Being the type of person that I am, always eager to help another writer, I allowed him to use me as his guinea pig.

This tool will make sure you hit the twelve critical waypoints in your novel. Prepare these twelve points in advance and you can pants your way from one to the next spontaneous as the weather but always head in the right direction.  Stating each of these in a single sentence– a long, rambling sentence written only for your eyes– will give you a clear easy-to-follow path through your novel.

I didn’t want her words to make sense.

But they did.

In my comments, I wrote:

Sue, the 12-point plan is a solid one, and I’m sure I could benefit. But I don’t want to know what happens next until it happens. The character doesn’t have any idea where he or she is headed. Why should I?

And, thank God, here came the wisdom of Joel D Canfield jumping into the fray.

It would do us all good to hear what he had to say to me. In reality, he was talking to us all.

***

Joel D Canfield
Joel D Canfield

Since you say “I’m sure I could benefit,” I’ll offer some counterproposals for you to ponder:

1. Think of your writing as an adventurous vacation. I love the excitement of not knowing what’s coming next. At the same time, I like to know how long we’ll be gone and a few places I’d like to see along the way. We never, ever, just get in the car and drive west for five days. We have waypoints we intend to hit but we’re spontaneous about how we get there, and even, what we do when we arrive at any one of them.

2. Since we all know that no plan survives contact with the enemy, consider the planning portion as one more means of discovery. Pantsers love the random discoveries made along the way. Why not make those discoveries once in the planning stage, and then again in the writing stage? You know that as you’re writing, you create and reject ideas as you go. Rarely does the first thing that comes to mind end up in the printed book. Why not flush out the first round of rejected ideas in the planning stages?

3. Finally, why not try it once and see whether you really do benefit. Maybe we’re both wrong about this, in your case, and it won’t benefit you at all. But you’ll never know if you don’t give it an honest try. Sue and I are both hardened pantsers, yet we’ve both adopted methods of planning that work for us. And I’ll tell you, it has improved my writing exponentially and made the process not only easier, but way more fun.

 ***

Joel D asked me to ponder his thoughts. I am. He does have a convincing argument.

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