There are many writers who claim to pants their stories. That is, fly by the seat of their pants, aka no plan, no outline, no nothing before starting to write. The other option is planning, which consists of drawing up a complete outline, character bios, detailed setting documents, and so on.
I wish to submit two controversial opinions:
- Pantsing and plotting are not two options, but rather two ends of a spectrum.
- As with many linear scales, most of us fit most comfortably somewhere between the two extremes.
The popularized term for folks who do “both” is Plantser. My argument is that we are all plantsers. Or, at least, the majority of us are.
The hitch: until you start writing, you have no real idea where you fit on that spectrum. You may think you’re on the Pantser end, then you get stuck on Day 4 with no idea what to do. Or you could Plannerize everything down to the details, then discover you only want to write a few of those scenes because the rest is already fulfilled in your head. Or your plans fly out the window because on Day 3, you thought of something brilliant.
My advice to any writer who isn’t sure where you fall on the spectrum is to aim for the middle. This list is not in order, because no one uses exactly the same process:
- Draft an outline focused on the major plot points. Leave out details and keep to the basic facts.
- Figure out the broad strokes of your main characters.
- Do some pre-writing of 1-3 short scenes that would take place before the novel starts to settle into the characters’ voices and mannerisms.
- Figure out what your setting needs to accommodate your plot and characters.
- If you have any mystery elements at all, come up with the clues.
- Come up with your ideal “It’s this meets this!” line. Example: “It’s Harry Potter meets Pacific Rim!” (I have no idea what that would look like, but I’d read the hell out of it.)
- Do your research, whether it’s about a place, a person label, a culture, clothing, technology, or whatever. Bookmark web pages with useful information about whatever topics you need.
For the average writer, this list should cover your prepping needs. You may discover you need more detail. Maybe you’re better with less.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to toss your outline if your brain takes you in a direction than your outline. Be flexible. But when you decide to veer off course, take a little time and figure out why. Is the new idea really better? Does the new journey suit the character/theme/conflict you want to portray?
If you feel good about the new direction, do a fresh set of plot points with it in mind and carry on.