Thursday, August 4, 2016

For All The Pantsers Out There

*This is a re-post from 2011, but I got several questions at Murder Goes South about my very pantsy outlining process, so I'm sharing again.

Are you an Outliner or a Pantser? My guess is you know.

As a former English teacher, I'm supposed to be a fan of outlines. But here's my dirty little secretI hate the things. I taught my students how to create them, use them, revise them, but deep inside I was all bletch.

And then I wrote a mystery novel without an outline, flyingas it wereby the seat of my pants. I went Pantser all the way, baby. It took me seven years to get the thing in somewhat novel-shaped form, and I swore I'd never do another mystery novel that way ever again. Outlines started looking pretty sexy.

But they're not. Outlines are mean snippy things, the schoolmarms of pre-writing. My Muse went on vacation. I was alone with the blank page, and the Outline was just sitting there, mocking me.

But then I got a visit from that other MuseDesperationand she suggested something radical. And so we have this thing now (see right).

This is my version of a timelinethe eight-day span of my novel with descending business card-sized chunks of the scenes that happen each day. I can see the WHOLE book this way, plus move bits and pieces around as I see fit (or even take them out). I still get to write like a Pantserjust diving right in, scribbling scene after scene, letting the story go where it willbut when I'm done, I have a very tactile, spatially-coherent way to give those scenes some order.

I stole this idea from Trey, one of my main characters. He likes things organized and linear (he loooves outlines) and this is one of his ways of making sense of a whole lot of information. And surprisingly enough, it worked for non-linear me. I could never create a book this way, but it sure helped while revising it. And I'll take all the help I can get (thanks, Trey. You're a mensch).

PS: For you word mavens out there, here is an interesting explanation of where the phrase "flying by the seat of your pants" actually originates.