For my first book, I did a hybrid pantser-plotter method with something like a beat sheet including plot points that must show up in the story, but leaving the rest open to inspiration. And since it was my first book, I learned just as much from the detours my story took from that spare map than I did from the parts I actually kept. The only problem was, my very first draft was a bloated 124,000 words long.
Spirits from the Vasty Deep has been through a number of rewrites since then, and the word count has gone up and down depending on the focus of each revision. And even though I'm still learning, I really wasn't up for that roller coaster ride again with my second book.
So I came up with a very detailed outline--as in 5,000 words long. Now when I sit down to write, instead of filling in the blanks, it feels like fleshing out a skeleton. Which sounds like a creepy metaphor, but it's apt. Have you ever seen one of those facial reconstructions based on a skull? It takes bare bone and makes it into something recognizable and almost alive.
That's something worth aspiring to, isn't it, that your work develops a life of its own? And if I don't stick to my outline 100%, then that's story evolution in action.
And I just wanted to add that I was very glad to have done such a detailed outline ahead of finishing the book--it turns out that I needed a one-page synopsis for the L.A. conference submission. I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out, and I know it would have taken a week's worth of hair pulling to do it without that outline to refer to. Instead, it took maybe 3 hours total, and it helped cement some of the important plot hinges in the story--so well worth it!
What about you? Are you a plotter or a pantser? A little of both?
Map image Clipart from Clipartheaven.com