My college professor would turn over in his grave if he heard this confession, but I just can’t do it. No matter how hard I try, I simply cannot write an outline. Oh, I’ve written them, had to. It was required to graduate my professor’s class, but they are worthless to me when I write my novels. And I’m not criticizing writers who outline their stories, believe me. On the contrary, I envy them. For one, they pretty much have a completed synopsis when they are finished, again something I lack. Heck, I can barely write a synopsis after I finish the story.
But worse, not only can I not write an outline, I can’t even see the next chapter. I swear that I really do have a muse who whispers in my ear.
It dawned on me the other day that this in pretty much how I live my life, how I vacation, how I decorate. All of it.
A travel agent? Are you kidding me?
Twenty years ago, hubby and I came home from work on a Sunday night, packed our bags and one-year-old son, and drove to North Carolina for a mini vacation and to check out the state. Three months later, we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Eight years later, we moved back to Florida, a week after I received an amazing job offer.
Pay for excursions on a cruise ship? Don’t even think about it. I talk to the locals, find where the best places are, and GO!
Design and color coordinate my house? Not a chance. One day, one store, and I’d chosen the drapes I would live with for the next ten years.
I’d never thought about it before, but I guess that’s who I am. But because someone told me it would be easier, I tried. I sat down and tried to write where my story was going. I had the entire chapter planned out—I didn’t want to get ahead of myself; this was a test. ONE CHAPTER! I couldn’t even plan one chapter.
I told my character—okay, my male protagonist told the female protagonist exactly what he wanted her to do. I knew exactly how the scene was going to play out. Had my entire day scheduled based on the plan I’d sketched out that morning. And darned if she didn’t do the exact opposite, changing my entire chapter. Yep, there I was typing away and all of the sudden my fingers are typing the complete opposite, and then the crowd milling around my couple cheered her on. Sigh!
Now what on earth am I supposed to do with that? What if I’d taken the time to plan the entire novel? Nope! Never again. If my characters don’t speak, I move on to a different story. In fact, here’s a tidbit you may have interest in and one I’d be curious if anyone else does.
All my stories have a ‘whodunit’ with the exception of one, and it’s still a suspense, it’s just not a ‘whodunit’, rather it’s a ‘what happened in the past’ question. And yet, I never know ‘who did it’ until the character reveals themself. I am just as surprised as the reader is. How’s that for being a panster?
Any other authors do this? Any suggestions on what you think works? I’d love feedback on both styles. And I always love hearing from readers.
By the way, here’s the excerpt from Entangled Dreams where my character disobeyed my explicit instructions. I removed the characters’ names so you wouldn’t have any spoilers, but I hope you agree that her actions made the scene better. Love that little muse of mine.
He looked back at her. “I want you to go now. Don’t look back. Just keep walking. Okay?”
She nodded and stood up on obviously shaky legs as she wobbled toward him. But she pulled in a deep breath as though pulling herself together and stood to her full height. “I’ll be waiting by the phone for your call. I love you too.” And she turned and walked away, head held high.
He couldn’t help but smile as he turned toward the detective. “I’ve got one heck of a woman there, gentlemen. Only a man with a woman like her could smile while being arrested for something he didn’t do.”
The officer tried not to smile, but he could see it was with great effort. He turned around and put his hands behind his back for the officer to cuff him. It was the third time in his life he’d been cuffed and taken to jail. He knew the drill.
The officer’s words behind him faded into his subconscious as he kept his eyes locked on her. A crowd of people had gathered around, but all he saw was her as the officer patted him down.
At the last second, before she lowered herself into the taxi, she looked back in his direction. “I love you!” she screamed, loud enough for the entire port to hear. “I’ll love you forever, and I’m proud to be your wife.”
The gathering crowd cheered and clapped as he felt the officer direct him to the car. Tears streamed down his face, and he was glad she hadn’t listened to him. “I love you too!” he called back as loud as he could as the officer touched the top of his head, lowering him into the back of the police car.
Thank you for stopping by my place and reading my musings. Remember, these are just my opinions and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. If you have questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section, and I promise you I will answer. If you’re curious about what I write, please visit one of my author pages, where you can read all about my novels and short stories. And hey, I’ll even give you a free book just for stopping by.
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I know your writing style, my friend, and I have to say, you do a good job at it. Me? I tried the by the seat of my pants before and thought I did a good job telling my story...until I got feedback that my characters were like cardboard...living out actions but having no 'soul'. LOL! Since then I've plotted, planned, and outlined in order breath life into my characters. There are times when I go by my outline, start at the beginning of a chapter and half way through, my characters have added more to the story than I intended, point me in a different direction, or change things. I like those moments because I know then that I've dived into the heart and soul of my character and am listening to their voice. So I guess I'm a heavy plotter/planner with a side of by the seat of my pants....ha ha ha...and I wouldn't change a thing. I don't think there's a good or bad way of writing, just what works best for each of us. I suggest everyone at least try each method in order to discover what works best. Sometimes, combining a bit of each works too! Great post!ReplyDelete
So true, MJ. And you do a wonderful job with your plotting. As I said, I envy you. I wish I had it in me. But I also agree you have a very good point with the plotting and also flying by the seat of your pants, which by the way is where the term 'pantser' comes from if you didn't know.Delete
And I do admit, I'll jot down ideas...I just need to learn how to plan at least the stages of the novel I think, as I believe it would make it easier for me. Sigh...but I'm an old dog. :)
Until I read this, I hadn't realized that I do live my life by the seat of the pants just like I write. I like spontaneous trips, hate having a restrictive itinerary when traveling, sit down at the computer with only a vague idea of what may happen in the current scene. All of this is kind of counter to the control issues I have wanting to follow a particular route in Target, keeping organized piles on my desk at the day job, and color-coding my closet. :-).ReplyDelete
Ahh... Life unscripted! Love it! And I can see where having a day job that requires you to have everything in perfect order could make you want to rebel on your off time. I once listened to an interior designer who when asked to see his house, the reviewer was surprised. His explanation: he works with color all day; when he got home, he just wanted a break, so everything was pure white.Delete
I'm glad it works for you too, and I'm happy that I'm not alone with wanting to live in the moment.
I'm a pantser, too. It's been a challenge at times because it's such a wild and crazy ride, but I've learned a lot over the last few years. I'm currently doing 10 Stories in 10 Weeks (writing a story, editing, and proofreading it, then sending it off, all in one week. NO revision). One of the things this has forced me to learn is that there's a part of the process where I start writing the story to figure out what it's about. Then where I'm supposed to go hits me, and I throw out what I just wrote (goes against everything I've learned and done) settle in to creating the final story. The NO revision forces me to not leave things for later and look for the typical mistakes I make, like leaving out the details. I'm starting to employ this on the novel as well. Instead of revising scenes, which takes a long time, I create the scene new and pull things from the old scene (not as much as you would imagine). Where I would have labored over revision of one scene for several days and probably still not been happy, I'm plowing through 4-5 scenes and feel more comfortable with the way it's working. It's also helped by four questions I'm using before I write the scene (1. Does this scene ratchet up the tension of the one before it?; Is this event caused by the one before it?; What is the setback in this scene?; and Does it end in an unexpected way?)ReplyDelete
Very impressive, Linda. I like it!Delete
An author friend of mine once told me to just, "puke it out". While that sounds crass, it really helped me. I was so worried about editing when all I should have been worried about is writing.
I do something in between both worlds now. In the morning, I simply write. Then in the afternoon, I take a break. Right before I go to bed, I reread what I wrote in the morning, catching any errors, but still not content editing. Then I go to bed and let the characters come alive. The next day, I make the corrections from the previous day, which helps me refresh where I was and start the next chapter. After I finish the entire WIP, I go back in do the content editing, adding the necessary ooh's, ahh's, extra action tags, and such. So, I understand exactly what you are saying. BUT... 10 stories in 10 weeks. Yikes!!! Good luck with that one. I'll be curious to hear how it all comes out.
Have a great day! :)
That's how you get published. You get stories done. You get them out. BTW, your comments show up in white text on a white bg. The only way I can read them is to highlight them. Someone with a screen reader probably has an easier time with them than a sighted reader.Delete
Exactly...whatever your means... :)Delete
And I'm sorry about it being hard to read. I love the colors of my website, but because they make the replies in white, the font that I use on the rest of the site doesn't show up. I hope that when I reply you get the email, or as you said, people will know they can run the mouse over it. I'm trying to find out if there's an HTML code I can add to change the reply box, as there's no option on site, but they're working on it. :)
I think we are soul sisters <3ReplyDelete
LOL, Melissa! I'm happy to have you as my soul sister, my friend. I'm glad you enjoyed. :)ReplyDelete
Were we separated at birth? I fired my last travel agent and planned things myself, letting the parts which didn't require firm reservations fall into place.ReplyDelete
LOL! It can be loads of fun--or a disaster. BUT...sometimes even mini-disasters in life are what we remember years later, huh? A perfect marriage ceremony...what fun is that? A vacation without someone crying because they didn't get to do what they wanted...practically impossible. Glad you can relate, my friend. :DDelete
Ironically, although I'm definitely a pantser when I write, I'm fairly organized in the rest of my life. Yes, I plan trips, and moves to new places definitely, with a fair amount of detail. And my house is very color coordinated! I hate to even wear socks that don't totally match my outfit.ReplyDelete
But if I outline a story, then I lose interest in it. My muse feels like it's already written and wants to move on. I do figure out whodunnit though in my mysteries, before I start writing.
Ooh...I should call you next time I have a personal project, Kassandra. Sounds like you'll get me on track. I understand what you are saying. I do have loads of excel sheets with to-do lists, but I kind of look at them as 'suggestions'. LOL!Delete
But that makes since on the outline. I never thought about it that way. Getting to the end is what makes it fun? I'm working on a book now that I swore I knew where I was going. After all, I had to spec out the three-book for a publisher when I started. BUT...no...I'm not even close to what I suggested I'd do. I changed the 'bad guy', brought in new characters, killed off a few I didn't like... It's fun! But now, I'm typing, at most, one chapter a day, waiting for the muse to get her butt in gear. She refuses to give me more. I think she's waiting for a raise. :)
I'm with Kassandra - my life MUST be organized (Hubby says TOO organized, most of the time), but in my writing: strictly pantster. And I've had characters refuse to go where I thought they were headed, too. Made for a much better story.ReplyDelete
Understood! If my life was properly organized, I'd probably have more time to write. My daily routine consists of...put off anything that I can do tomorrow. :) I could use some lessons in organizing, I'm sure.Delete
Kassandra I completely agree! Although I tend to be pretty organized in other aspects of my life (I always have a planner and create schedules for myself), I am absolutely a pantser when it comes to writing the story itself. I tried outlining a story before, and like you described, I lost interest in it. For me, part of the fun in writing is discovering what's going to happen as I write it. I love surprising myself with something unexpected during my daily writing time. I also enjoy those sudden sparks of creativity I get when I'm doing something non-writing related, which I don't get if I already outlined the story.ReplyDelete
When starting a new writing project, though I don't plan out all of the details beforehand, I need to have a vague idea of either the ending or a pivotal emotional scene before I begin (even if these ideas later change as I'm writing the story). If I don't have at least one of those, the story tends to fizzle out.
Thank you for stopping by, Zed! And I agree, the surprises make it fun. But yes, I do have to have some idea of the emotional part of the story, the part of the book where everything falls apart... That's the story! But it's fun to fill in all the other stuff. :)Delete