The more I write, the more of an outliner I become. I literally started the first draft of What’s Left of Me with nothing but a blank word document and Eva’s voice in my mind. The world-building, the other characters, the plot, all developed over the course of that first draft.
Of course, that meant the first draft wasn’t very good. Characters switched names halfway through. Plot lines were dropped, changed, or added. Settings morphed from scene to scene. The second, third, and fourth drafts were wobbly as well, as I slowly distilled all those rambling words into a coherent story.
For a long time,I figured that this was just how I wrote. I’d tried outlining, and it just didn’t seem to work for me—one attempt, in particular, had scared me away because it all but killed my enthusiasm for the story I’d been trying to write. I was definitely an exploratory writer, and watching a story fall into place was one of my favorite things.
But as I started writing more, and started needing to write faster, I began reconsidering things. Unlike a lot of writers, I’ve often enjoyed revision more than drafting, because it wasn’t until I started revising that the story started becoming clear. Not only that, but I was beginning to feel frustrated by how many words I’d always end up throwing away as I wrote draft after draft.
So I decided to give this outlining thing a second whirl. And while it’s a work in progress, I think it’s going pretty well. The trick is to find the right kind of outlining for you.
Here’s a collection of “beat sheets” (the term comes from screenwriting, I think, but as I’ve said before, there’s a lot novel-writers can learn from screenwriting craft) to get you started: http://jamigold.com/for-writers/worksheets-for-writers/
If you scroll through those, you’ll see that there are beat sheets for internal conflict, external conflict, romantic arcs, character-growth arcs, etc, etc. Personally, I don’t use any one exclusively, but it’s nice to keep a roadmap in your head while you outline, even if you end up going off that roadmap a bit (it’s okay to break rules, after all, as long as you know what you’re doing and why).
Nowadays, I’ve figured out that my old outlines were less than useful to me before I focused too much on external events. It was a lot of “And then they do this, and then this happens to them, and then this happens, and then they travel here…” rather than internal motivations. So when I started trying to draft based on these outlines, I felt frustrated because it felt like shoving my characters from one situation to another without any natural progression.
Now that I’ve changed my outlining to focus on not only external conflict, but internal conflict (and, even more importantly, how the two tie together), the whole process has become a lot more useful. Not only that, but I’ve come to enjoy drafting way more than I did before, because all the waffling and exploration (and resultant dead-ends) now happen during my outline process, when it’s a lot less heartbreaking to set aside 1000 words worth of outlining than 10,000 words worth of drafting!
What about you guys? Any more pantsers-turned-plotters? Anyone sure that they’ll never be tempted down this plotting path? 😛