What's Your Choice? Outliner and/or Seat of the Pants Writer? by J.Q. Rose
When you begin your story or novel, do you use an outline to guide your writing or do you just begin and let the ideas/characters/plot take you in the direction of the story? Letting the words flow along with no pre-planning means you are writing by the seat-of-your-pants thus gaining the title of a “pantser.” We have lots of discussions at The Writers Chatroom among the newcomers and regular attendees of the Wednesday evening chats, as well as guest authors on Sunday nights, as to the best method of writing a story or novel.
In an article by Robert Campbell, Outlining, in Writing Mysteries: A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America, this mystery writer admits he never used an outline. He preferred William Faulkner’s method of setting his characters on the road and “walk beside them, listening to what they have to say.” Campbell admits writing without an outline causes him to start down paths that lead to dead ends, but he discovers a lot about a character spending time on pages upon pages that he may have to discard. However, he feels that at least, he exercised the writing muscles.
Later in his writing Campbell discovered outlining using his “word processor” or even hand writing a simple outline. He also makes up documents before starting the story such as Chronology, Cast of Characters, Address Book, Timeline of History, Notebook and Agenda which “sketches the goals, desires and probable actions of each principal character as I move through the body of the book.” He builds on each of these documents as the work-in-progress (WIP) evolves. Campbell cautions that at no time is anything engraved in stone. He remains flexible with each chapter.
In my current WIP I tried the pantser and not so strict outline process and discovered just like Campbell, my many paths lead to dead ends. I really don't like cutting a bunch of scenes or re-writing to fit that once-brilliant idea into the story when it really isn't necessary.
It really makes no difference whether you need a map, guidelines, outline or just an idea to freely write a story. The important thing is to write. Don’t be paralyzed by constructing an outline, then never writing the story. With no outline, you may write paragraphs, pages, scenes, chapters, etc that will need to be cut for the final draft. But many authors incorporate those leftover pages into another future story or save them to share with readers on your blog to give them an extra treat to the behind-the-scenes editing you did to produce the finished product.
Pleeeeeezzzz…just write! It’s in you. What a shame if you don’t let it out on the page.