Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Pantsing vs Planning

I have probably already mentioned that this is not my first recent attempt at novel writing. I've always been one to dive in and give things my fullest attention, and so it was only natural that I would be, in writing terms, a pantser.

On those previous sojourns in to writing, I would come up with a good opening and start hammering at the keyboard. Words would fly past, and I would get 700 words down with barely a thought. Then I would block up completely - and that would be that. I tried writing some short fiction to get round that problem, but the stories weren't the one I am supposed to tell (yet, at least).

It turns out that, in writing, I am a planner. I need a good outline if I am to get a good day's writing done - and it gives me the overall direction I need in order to keep going. You can find a lot of good outlining advice with a simple google search - the sites I looked at came up on the first page of results. When I'm at a PC I'll try to add some links for attribution.

What I did was break my story up in to four 'acts'. The idea is that each of the first three acts ends with some disaster, with each worse than the last. I then roughly fitted the rise and fall of my characters around that framework.

It was then a case of figuring out how those features fitted around the story I want to tell. That quickly gave me six chapters for the first act, and a good overview for the second and third acts. I only have a general idea of my ending.

Knowing broadly how the first six chapters go let me get, and keep on, cracking. The characters then decided to change (and improve) the structure. Where I hadn't known whether a particular event would occur at the end of act 1 or the start of act 2... Well, I got told!

I also found that some characters decided they wanted to be more central than I had planned. They weren't happy being bit part players. This has grown the complexity of my novel, and added in subplots aplenty, which is something is struggled to fit in to the outline.

In the end, outlining has given me the freedom to be pants it. By having that framework, the story has held my hand through the writing process. I'm on target to 'win' NaNoWriMo on time, and the full first draft should end up at around 80-100,000 words.

Then I just have to revise, rewrite and revise again... I'm learning my craft as I go.

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