Are you a pantser or an outliner? This question seems to get asked whenever two or more writers come together. Implied in the phrasing is that it’s an either or proposition. And if you disagree, the other person is obviously wrong.
Outliners are viewed as control freaks who sacrifice creative story telling to their outlines, as if Moses brought the outline down from Mount Sinai.
Pantsers are butterflies who dance from flower to flower without rhyme or reason.
I’ve experienced both sides. Now, I characterize myself as a pantser or organic writer as Steven James like to call us.
Allow me to posit that these two approaches are not mutually exclusive or incompatible.
We can all learn from the other approach.
If I had not outlined my first three novels, I wouldn’t have had the courage to step into pantsing. When, in my second novel, my characters went off my painstakingly crafted outline and refused to go back, I took my baby steps toward trusting the organic approach because I could see they were telling a better story than I had outlined. I outlined my third novel, but was more willing to let my characters take the lead.
As William Faulkner said, “It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
I brought a valuable lesson from outlining into my organic approach. I cannot let myself just write in a Joycean stream-of-consciousness flow. I don’t outline anymore but I use what I call a free write method.
I’ll write a single-spaced page or two on my vision of the story, major plot points, characters and their goals, where do I want them to be at the end of the book.
Every fifty pages, I stop and compare where the story is to that initial free write. Frequently, I find my characters have revealed new aspects of themselves and the story world that need to be incorporated and explored further because of the richness they bring. At that point, I may do another free write to guide the next phase of the novel.
As an organic writer, I’ve learned to trust my characters and follow them. And I use the reviewing of an outliner to fine tune the story.
Where do you find using aspects of outlining and pantsing helpful?
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