When I first began writing my memoir, Fighting for a Chance to Dream, I wrote in a haphazard style. Whichever memory popped into my head, I typed into my laptop. This would then bring another memory to the surface, and I would diligently type it up. The result, drumroll please, was a freaking train wreck. I gave this first draft to two of my friends to read, (yes I am still begging for forgiveness). They both came back saying it was a great story of course. This is the reason you have to find beta readers who do not love you. I was unable to write for several months due to some chaos in my personal life, and when I picked up my first draft to read, I realized what a mess it was.
I restructured, edited, added, and subtracted scenes for another six months before giving it out to another round of friends to read. While they read, I continued to rewrite and edit. This was silly. When they came back with changes, I had already made those changes. I was definitely jumping the gun. I put my memoir away and began working on another book.
My second book, Go Big or Go Home, began with an outline of bullet points, which worked fine for a non-fiction book on a topic I am passionate about (running). It has yet to be finished because there are a few running events I would like to complete before publishing it. It also needs a thorough edit and revision.
Following the running book, I began writing a fiction novel while at the same time continuing to edit Fighting for a Chance to Dream. By this time, I had read a few books about structure, plot, dialogue, suspense, and conflict. I had heard the terms Pantser(writing by the seat of your pants) and Outline people. Pantsing made sense to me. The creative juices could just flow onto the page unrestrained by anything.
I hit 25,000 words and didn’t know where to go. My characters stared at me blankly. Sometimes they ran in circles singing, “This is the song that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on my friends. Some people started singing it not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue singing it just because this is the song that never ends.”
I considered just dropping the book into the recycle bin on my desktop, but I had started listening to K.M. Weiland’s Wordplay podcasts and decided to give outlining a try. I bought her book Outlining Your Novel, Map Your Way to Success, it was the miracle I was looking for. While reading the book, ideas jumped into my head. I had to keep a notebook right next to me, so I could jot down the plot and structure ideas as they sprang into my mind.
I knew I had to redo many things in the book. I knew I had to combine characters and reconsider my POV characters. I was going to have to go back to square one. But, I was thrilled about starting over. Some scenes will be salvaged, but many will lovingly be placed in the deleted scene folder.
To start my outline, I wrote my story out long hand. Whatever came to my head, I wrote down. There are tangents and questions laced in among character description, setting description, theme, and plot. I wrote the story from my protagonist’s perspective. Then I wrote it from the other minor character’s perspectives.
I’ve gone through the notebooks and highlighted usable complete ideas in yellow, character and backstory in orange, subplots are in green, and ideas that need more development are in pink. I wrote scene ideas on index cards. I am now in the process of typing up an extended outline, scene by scene. I should complete it within the next week.
Yes, it is a million pages long, but I’m no longer stuck, my characters are speaking to me like never before. I am excited to get working on the first draft again.
I found Outlining your Novel Map Your way to Success so helpful that I’m now reading K.M. Weiland’s book Structuring Your Novel Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story.
I’ve listened to all of her past podcasts, and I’m going through her video episodes on Youtube. I follow K.M. Weiland on Facebook and Pinterest. I feel like a stalker! I tweet her prior episodes and mention her in most of them. (She probably thinks I’m a stalker at this point).
I have read other author’s books on the craft, of course, and will continue to read them. I have a bunch on my kindle and bookshelves (all recommended by K.M. Weiland muhahaha!) just kidding, well sort of.
Bottom line is if you are just starting out on your writing journey find someone who teaches the craft of writing that you resonate with and be a stalker of their material.
K.M. Weiland has a new book on the craft coming out on August 1, 2014, the Annotated Jane Eyre. She also has her fiction books Behold the Dawn, A Man Called Outlaw, and Dreamlander.
You can buy K.M.Weiland’s books and stalk her on her webpage here.
2 thoughts on “Pantsing or Outlining Your Novel”
Hah! See, now I’m stalking back thanks to Google Alerts. 😉 I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the books! Makes my day to hear they’ve been useful.
KM Weiland, Thanks for visiting my site. It means a lot to me, especially because I know you are busy.