Someone asked me whether it’s better to be an outliner or a seat of the pants writer.
Actually, it all depends.
I know writers who are uncompromising outliners and others (aka: seat of the pantsers) who see outlining as a sentence to a dank, damp dungeon. Think the Count of Monte Cristo.
When I started writing, I was a dedicated outliner. Being a tad OCD, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. I detailed every scene on a spreadsheet. I include the date, time, place, POV character, other characters in the scene, and what happened. For one book, I color-coded the scenes by POV character. Talk about a rainbow effect. Made me dizzy.
I drew up detailed character profiles of my protag and antag and the major secondary characters. I wanted to know those people inside and outside, their problems, goals, and motivations. I described what they looked like, their little quirks. Before they ever set foot on the page, I needed to know everything about them.
I once spent six weeks outlining a novel before starting chapter one. In the middle of act two I discovered the characters had taken the story completely away from all my careful preparation. And they wouldn’t let me take it back to the outline! Talk about a sit down strike. We finished the novel their way. And it came out better.
My current work is a fantasy novel in response to a challenge from my weekly critique group. Besides exploring a new genre, I’m writing first person POV for the first time. And I’m writing completely seat of the pants.
It was with great trepidation I sat at my laptop that first day. I had a title, my male protag’s first name and general idea of his story goal. I had the same for my female protag. I knew my beginning and my end and I had a vague idea of what would happen in the middle.
110,000 words into the story, I’m finding I enjoy the adventure of pantsing. In each scene, I know what the outcome needs to be. Then I start to write and let my characters take me there. Sometimes they take me to a different outcome. Which is fine.
In pantsing, I deep edit more often—at least weekly. I look for promises I make to the reader and jot them in a notebook to make sure I deliver on them by the end of the story.
Another thing I’m discovering is the need to keep track of so many things. In the fantasy, there are people, religions, animals, plants, foods, countries, weapons, and kingdoms that all need names. And many have quirks or powers.
I’m enjoying the process of writing without the outline. I enjoy the challenge of keeping all the information straight and consistent.
Have I been delivered from outlining? Not entirely. The closest I come now is to periodically free write a page or two about where the story is heading. In early April, I free wrote a page for my male protag and another for my female protag. I am still working off those pages today.
I’d say I’ve reached a hybrid state of writing.
Are you strictly an outliner? Or a seat-of-the-pants writer? Which method works best for you? Why?