Hey, everyone, here’s a counterpoint to my Fivers on outlining. This is a guest post froom Todd Skaggs, and I think it’s going to give you something to think about. We don’t all write the same way, and Todd is here to tell you my way sucks, and his is better. You decide, of course.
He’s got an easy style about him, so if you like this post, be sure to check out his blog, Cooking for One, for more great stuff in this writing life we pursue. Oh, yeah, that ain’t a cooking blog…
It’s been about a year now since I met a dude that would invite me into the inner sanctum for writers — the elusive writers’ group. It is in a writers’ group that you will learn to give and receive valuable feedback. It’s a safe place where the weirdness of what we do doesn’t have to be explained or defended No, honey, I swear I was googling “environmentally friendly ways to destroy a body” as research for a story about a Greenpeacer who loses it and goes on a murderistic rampage; killing a corporate big wig for every blue whale they let die.
This particular writers’ group is where I learned about something else. Apparently there are two main camps of writers: Plotters and Pantsers. Or Planners and Trousers. Facts and Slacks. But I digress. The Plotter has their outline. They set up the framework and write around that. It’s like they make the skeleton, and then assemble the body of their story around that.
The Pansters, so named for their innate tendency to fly by the seat of their pants, on the other hand, tend to view themselves as a conduit for the story, wherever it may come from. Much like the scene in The Fifth Element, where the doctors put the hand in the genetic replicator and stood by, amazed, as the body developed before them with no expectations or preconceived ideas about how divine it would be.
You may have guessed by my editorial bias that I am in the camp of the Pantsers. I always have been, it would seem. And here’s five reasons why…
- You are not hampered by the structure. The hardest part of writing by outline for me (and many pantsers I’ve talked to), is the guilt of going off-book. When you are writing to an outline, you leave little room for surprises. It can force a story structure that looks like it makes sense-and it may be a great story-but you’ve taken out some of the chance for your characters to surprise you.
- Your characters reveal themselves to you as the story develops. As a pantser, my writing is less ‘coming up with a story and fleshing out the details’ and more along the lines of transcribing a movie in my head. As I’m watching the movie (and writing down what I’m seeing in my head), I see the characters as the reader might. They reveal themselves to me in the words that form on the page around them.
- Stories develop in a more organic sense. If you have ever read an author interview where they said they had no idea how the words got on the page, there’s a good chance that author is a pantser. For the pantser, writing is a fluid dance. A give and take. The story seems to follow its own course, almost as those you’re reading it for the first time as you write it.
- It is easier to minimize distractions. Without always having to refer back to outlines and notes, there is more time for the thing we love–writing. The lack of constant reference material in tow makes it easier to steal moments for writing. A quick 20 minutes at the coffee shop or a lunch break at work become opportunity to let more of the story unfold for you as you write it out for the world.
- It’s much easier to use an outline if you need to. That’s right, as a lifelong pantser, I will be the first to admit that you may need to construct an outline or at the very least map out the key arc in your story. AFTER THE FIRST DRAFT. The beauty in letting the writing flow as it will is the fact that the writing does just that–flows. I’m not saying it won’t flow with an outline, or that you won’t need an outline after your first draft to make things a little more cohesive, but what I am saying is this. If you find yourself getting stuck putting that outline together for your next story, try this… Stop. Close your eyes and wait until the movie of you story starts playing in your head. Once it’s ramped up and you have a clear vision of the story you’re watching, open your eyes. Now, write the movie you’re watching. Welcome to the world of pantsing (at least how it works for me).
Thing is…plotter or pantser doesn’t really mean anything. The point as writers is that we write. Whether you have the route planned out with the latest city transit map, or you are by the side of the road with your thumb out, unsure of where you’re going, the journey is the key.
I choose to fly mine by the seat of my pants. How do you get there?