Sunday, January 9, 2011

Outlining or Pantsing?

We all know that some writers need to use a detailed outline when writing a book and other writers begin their novel with a terrific character, a story idea, or a scene that simply won't get out of their heads.

I've always had a fairly clear outline when I've started a novel:  first three chapters are vivid, the ending is established, and most of the remaining major scenes through the first two-thirds of the book are set up.

Currently, however, I decided to trust my right-brain and let if fly with a terrific idea, four characters (two protagonists, the antagonist, and supporting character), and the basics of a plot.  My left-brain, however, still can't completely let go of the compulsion to jot down all the things that need to be connected, some of the things I absolutely HAVE to do as the book progresses, etc.

Do you think that's especially true of storylines that involve mysteries or suspense?  Or does it work the same way with straight romances?

I've always wanted to write a pure romance and focus simply on the relationship.  But my unconscious always throws in a dead body, a stalker, or some other puzzle that the two main characters have to focus on.

Any suggestions about why that is?  Any advice about pantsing?


  1. I've no idea how to plot and I am extremely envious of anyone who can. My last book, I knew the character and that was it. No idea where I was going or how I was going to get there. But I knew there was going to be a mystery, a few dead bodies, a little romance and a bumpy ride.

  2. Michael, Did you find that you need to do a lot of revisions after the first draft because of a lack of a story outline to follow? Or do things fall neatly in place because your right-brain keeps control of the big picture and allows the small details to fall into place?

  3. happily, things fell into place. This was my fifth novel so I did have some practise. There were a couple of times I had to do some retrospective plotting - you know when you go back a few pages and seed in the possibility of something happening?

    My first few books I had a fair idea of where I was going - I just didn't know how I was going to get there.

  4. Thanks for the encouragement. You've supported my current theory that after having written numerous books (two of which have been published) and a variety of other stuff that has been published, I might want to try my hand at doing some pantsing.

  5. I think it comes down to: what works for you. Some writers are great at just picking up a pen and writing. Then you have folks like jeffrey Deaver, who will take eight months to outline. His outline may be 160 pages long. Then all he has to do is basically fill in the words. I like to outline but I don't strictly adhere to it because I may reach a point where something is not quite working or I have a great idea for a subplot or something new to introduce. I don't think you can force yourself to either outline if you're not comfotable with it or not to if you feel the need to write notes.