Born-Again Plotter

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


Kris Atkins said...

I'm a little of both. For my first novel, I had a fairly detailed outline (not 5k words, but still a good two pages), and it was really nice when I got stuck, and there was always the option to veer from it (which I often did). But the story ended up too plot-driven. That could've been because of my rookie-novelist status, but I decided to change things up. With my thesis, I completely pantsed it and it wandered around way too much. So with this third novel, I did a very loose outline (basically, here are the absolute highlights of the book, similar to what you did with your first one). I'm really digging the way it's working for me so far. Enough to keep me on track (what's the next big event I need to work towards?) but little enough that I remember to have fun with my characterization.

E.B. Black said...

My stories always come out better when I'm being a plotter. I mean, the end result may be just as good, but how long it takes me to get there and the amount of revisions is significantly less if I plan it ahead of time. I prefer it that way.

Although lately, I've been working on a book as my critique partners get back to me that I didn't plan even a word of ahead of time and it has been fun. But it's a romance novel set in modern day. I can't imagine doing this at all with fantasy or sci-fi which is what I usually write. There's so much world building needed and rules for magic or aliens or whatever, that I need to plan ahead of time or everything gets mixed up.

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