What? You are one of those authors? You mean you never plan your stories out? How do you do it? You should read this great book on outlining your story. Don’t you have to outline and plan before you write?
Yes, I am a “pantser.” I don’t plan my stories or books. I don’t outline and I don’t create pages of backstory about my characters. In fact, most of the time I start a story with no idea of where it’s going, what is going to happen, who the characters are or even what the plot is.
Yes, I am aware that this could lead to trouble. There have been a few times when I’ve had to back up in my story and toss out the last several thousand words so I could go in a different direction. Occasionally I’ve had to figured out what the plot of the story is after I’m over half way done writing. And once or twice I’ve had to rearrange some of my scenes.
With all this trouble, you might think that I should try planning. The truth of the matter is, if I think of a plot, story idea, scene or whatever, for very long without writing it, I can’t write it. It’s flat and dull. There is no life left in it. I much prefer the occasional times of having to back up and go a different direction than trying to breath live into an already “used up” idea.
The closest I have come to “planning” is jotting down ideas like: Barn burns, school, snake in church, etc. These are short, give me the thought without giving too much information and allow me the freedom to explore the idea when I’m ready for it.
You mean you don’t plan at all?
Sometimes I will spend 5 minutes before I write, jotting ideas down for what I’m going to be writing next. I can’t get too far ahead of myself, but just getting my big thoughts broken into smaller steps can help. But I don’t do that very often.
My only other planning was when I was writing my first book. Since it was all about WWI, I had to get my battles and events in the right place so I didn’t forget about them. For this I printed a calendar and wrote those things down. (I also added birthdays of my characters since I was covering 5 years and everyone had to grow up.:) )
But what about characters? Don’t you write detailed descriptions about them? Don’t you need to know their quirks, their personality and what their favorite color is? What about there reason for acting the way they are?
Believe me, the quirks, personality and such come out when I write. If I need to know something, chances are, my characters will inform me. But because I don’t start off knowing everything about my characters, I find it easier to let them grow in a way that the readers can see too. I don’t feel the need to force information about Joe Blow and Jane Green on my readers right away, so the development comes about in a more natural way.
As for the reason a character acts a certain way, tell me, do you always know why someone in real life acts a certain way? You may have an idea, and now and then you might know, but it isn’t a foolproof thing.
And so, I don’t plan. I’ve read a book about outlining my novel, but it doesn’t work for me. But I’ve had students who need to plan, they need the structure an outline has, and that’s okay. Writing is not about strict rules of doing this and not doing that. It’s about telling the story God has given you to tell. It’s about letting it live for your readers. If that takes outlining every single scene and conversation, writing five page descriptions and backstory of each character, so be it. If it means starting with a thought and just writing and watching the story unfold as you write, do it.
Are you a planner? An outliner? Or do you write by the seat of your pants? I’d love to know your thoughts. Leave a comment and tell me how you write.