Master The Outline – 12 Methods For Plotters & Pantsers – Part I

OutlineingIf you cut my wrist, I’d bleed pantser all over you. Which, for anyone that knows me in real life, is about as ironic as you can get. I’m hyper organised. I have lists of lists and spreadsheets to make even the hardiest of geeks weep. I’m so extreme my wife has to schedule in time for spontaneity.

Which is why, when I first started writing, I knew without hesitation I was a plotter. Except that I really wasn’t. I tried to plot my way through to finishing a novel and I couldn’t.

Plotting led to me drowning myself in cliches: balled up scraps of paper littered my living room, my laptop screen lay barer than the sahara and enough empty coffee cups loitered on my table to waken even the most exhausted mother. I was blocked.

In the end I threw my rigid-frigid-plotting rule book in the fuck it bucket and NaNo’d the shit out of November 2014. Victory was mine. I finished off the manuscript triumphant. I was a fucking writer at last. The arrogance did not last. After a 3 month break I picked up the manuscript and nearly paper machΓ¨ myself a coffin out of it. It was worse than finding a maggot in your apple.

Right there. That was the moment I knew then I had to find a way to prevent myself from ever having to re-write anything again.

So I have amassed X different methods to outlining and made suggestions as to how you can use them as a pantser. A few too many for one post – so as is becoming a habit lately, I’ve split them over more than one post.

Before I start, Rowena needs a quick mention. She recalled something fascinating she heard in a seminar. She said that pantsers end up re-writing and editing for much longer than plotters. But plotters end up unable to create enough mood and atmosphere.

What do you think? I’m a pantser and ended up having to re-write my manuscript. What are you and how true do you think that statement is? Let me know in the comments. 

Method ONE – Chapter Outlines

My hand written chapter outlines for the last half of Keepers

My hand written chapter outlines for the last half of Keepers

This method sprinkled with a bit of Method Six (next week) is the one I default to if I’m in danger of my plot dropping off a 100ft cliff.

I was forced into plotting half way through my second draft. When I realised it was going to end in a cluster fuck if I didn’t work out the plot twists.

This method does what it says on the tin. Literally. You write down notes for each chapter. Key action, any bits of conversation that need to happen, any twists or foreshadowing you need to include.

Good for Plotters: Because you have an outline for every single chapter you want to write.

Good for Pantsers: Because you can add as much or as little detail to each chapter as needed. You can even leave chapters blank or just use one word.


 

 

Method TWO – 7 Point Party

Dan Wells, author of Partials among other books, is infamous for using the 7 Point Plot Plan. I am sure others have used, but I found it through his lecture series, (shared below) so your stuck with me talking about it like it’s his creation.

Like the 3 Point Plot Plan, there are only seven sentences. Course, if you want to pad, then make it 7 paragraphs or you could don your best plotter lab coat and write a page for each point. The main structuring tactic here, is to work backwards…

Good for Plotters: Because it hits every key point in a novel, giving structure to your books pivotal moments before you start.

Good for Pantsers: Because you only have to write 7 sentences if you don’t want to expand. Leaving stacks of room for spontaneity while writing, but enough detail on the key points you don’t fuck shit up by killing a darling that needs to live. It’s also flexible enough you can pad it out when you want to.

Hook – (Do this 2nd) If you managed to note your ending without breaking out in plottery hives, then the hook is easy. The start of a book is generally the opposite to the ending. Take Stephen King’s Shawshank Redemption – At the start he’s trapped in prison, at the end he’s free… oops… should have said, spoiler alert.

Plot Turn 1 – (Do this 4th) Your books jollying along nicely, everyone’s happy and BAM, conflict/problem/world ending disaster fucks shit up for your hero. This sets your characters on the the hook to the midpoint

Pinch 1 – (Do this 6th) Conflict got shoved in earlier and now you get to rub your evil authorly hands together and make shit a lot harder for your hero. Apply pressure, use the villain.

Midpoint – (Do this 3rd) The mid point is pivotal not just because you’re half way through your blood sweat and tears journey but because your characters move from reaction, to action. Of course it doesn’t need to be the actual middle, it could be 30 or 70% of the way through but wherever it is, its a change in the characters that moves from the villain driving the plot to the protagonist driving it.

Pinch 2 – (Do this last) This is the fun bit, you do your absolute worst and beat your hero with the villain stick while cackling and drinking a GnT. Screw shit up so bad for your hero that everything seems utterly hopeless. The villain’s clearly guna win cause he defeated the hero in on battle already and left the hero.

Plot Turn 2  – (Do this 5th) This is where your hero has an epiphany, solves the final clue or sets sail for an epic battle. It’s the point in your novel that moves you from midpoint to ending.

Resolution – (START HERE) Every word you bleed onto the page leads to the ending. With the exception of hooking people in at the start, its the most critical part of any book. Even as a pantser I have a general idea of how I want my story to end. Note it down first.

You can see the first part of Dan Wells’ 5 part lecture series on this system here:


Method THREE – 3 Point Party

Just like the 7 Point Plot Plan, this could only require three sentences for your entire outline. Or you could extend each one into a paragraph or a page.

Quite simply, a sentence about your beginning, another about the ending and one covering the middle.

Good for Plotters: Actually, this one probably isnt comprehensive enough for a true plotter. But it does at least have a beginning, middle and end noted down with the potential for expanding them.

Good for Pantsers: Because it’s the ultimate quick tool. You have your outline in three quick sentences. There’s enough freedom to vomit words and just enough structure you know what to do to get from the beginning to the middle and the middle to the end.


That’s it for this week. Next week I’ll cover:

The Snowflake method, visual writers methods of outlining, equipment and contextual outlining among others.

If you liked this post, why not sign up for more just like it straight to your mailbox. Sign up here.funny 5-july

103 comments

    1. Hehe, glad I made you smile πŸ™‚ ahhh yes, see I get a bit of a squishy middle so that’s why I needed to force outlines! More option coming next week πŸ™‚

      Have a great week

  1. I’m a plotter! Never was until I took part in my first NaNo but its revolutionised my writing. Even though I have a plan, it is possible for characters to take over and weave their own adventure. I love planning stories out as I know it’s only a guideline. I can let the creativity flow because I’ve got a roadmap to stop me waffling or heading off in a tangent. Great post, Sacha X

  2. I’m setting myself up for a good kicking, here, but I don’t actually think you can simply divide writers up as either pantsers or plotters. I’m sure we all have elements of both, but tend to be more of one or the other. I know one writer who plots every last detail of his story, from beginning to end and, well, good for him. It works for him. Some, of course, sit down and write ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ and then chew the end of their pen and wonder where all this going. In between, the rest of us drop in somewhere.

    I tend to have a few critical points to honour, and meander gormlessly between them. i do agree this enables me to create more mood and atmosphere, but that’s just me.

    1. Ah I agree but I have to have a short title πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

      Also, it’s a commonly accepted meme so I guess I wasn’t being completely literal.

      But – I would say it’s a continuum, mostly I’m a pantser but sometimes I plot stuff too.

      None of us can be wedged into one box, that’s just not how life works πŸ™‚

    2. Just a personal opinion here, but an extensive outline like you describe is essentially the first draft. When your friend writes from the outline, that’s the second draft. By that time, he’s one step ahead of the rest of us. LOL

      I am definitely a “hybrid” writer…I start out with every intention of writing just a high level outline, but then I write a heading and have a great idea that I don’t want to lose, so I write a couple paragraphs, then some dialog, then it all evolves to a full scene…right in the middle of my outline. I just can’t seem to control it.

      I’m hoping to try Dan Well’s method and see if I do at least one pass at a high level, overview, of the book before I succumb to pantsing a few scenes here and there. Of course, we all know about good intentions…….

      1. Yeess…a first draft but with, perhaps, less wriggle room than others have – so much has been set down in stone, it becomes almost impossible to change a great deal. But, again, maybe that’s what that particular writer wants.

    1. Hehe, I feel your pain, I rewrote my entire novel πŸ™„πŸ”«.

      I hope if you use it, it works. Lots more suggestions for different outline types coming next week πŸ™‚

  3. Oh god, I have no idea how my book will end or resolved… method 2 is out for me for now! But thanks for this list, it’s great. Will stay tuned for the other methods.

  4. Definitely more of a plotter here. I do the chapter outlines where I write 1 line for each section that tells me what points I’m aiming for. This tends to be followed as a guideline because I merge sections, delete chapters, and add stuff as I go along. Stories always tend to be longer and choppier when I’m planning them at first.

    1. See, I find that fascinating Charles, because I do the same as you, but I see myself as a pantser because so much changes from the original outline and I often have to rewrite the outline entirely and I always thought plotters did stacks. Oh god, has my whole world just shattered?! I think I generally start with an idea and tend to plot as I get a chunk of the way in. I reckon I start plotting about 30k in… I have no idea what that makes me!

      1. I’ve had to do outline rewrites to some extent. When dealing with a series and having a plan for each book, I find that later volumes need to be altered to fit things that came out of nowhere in earlier ones. Maybe I should call them ‘guide-outlines’ or ‘out-guidelines’ or something that isn’t lame?

        I agree with the other commenter that most authors fall into both categories at some point.

        1. Yeah, I definitely think a bit of flexibility about it helps, but I can also see how vital plotting is when you are dealing with dozens of books in a series, I can’t even imagine how much information one would have to hold in their heads to manage it all.

          1. More than possible. This is why the later books of my series take a while. I have to dig through my notes and previous books to make sure the locations, monsters, and characters remain consistent. This is really going to be a headache when I work on connected series.

          2. I’m dreading it – I have 6 in my series, and I am having to compile family trees, and a bibles worth of information on locations, chekov guns and all sorts. sigh.

          3. Ahh, see, mine definitely does need family trees – there’s a lot of interconnectedness going on for me, lots of twisty family crap. But that’s the only reason I even thought to consider it. I’m rubbish at genealogy and if I hadn’t captured it I would have gotten WELL confused.

  5. I found this to be an entertaining and informative post. As a new writer I have struggled with the plotter vs pantsers myself and have recently figured out I am a true pantsers. I have recently began working on my first book to extend past short stories I post for my blog and have found your post helpful in better ways to keep with committing out my story, but at same time plan out some structure to it and keep it on track. I look forward to the continuation of this post.

          1. I had help. Melissa Barker-Simpson actually went through and edited and showed me how to do it. Here’s my mantra: 3rd person for the story, 1st person for dialog. That really helped. ❀️

  6. Fab post Sach! So true even a pantser needs a bit of direction or surely 2nd draft edits will become like writing another book, YUCK! I’ll call myself a method 1 girl. Definitely pantsing but not without an outline of chapters of topics I must include. Pretty rough, but at least gives me a direction to write. Also, I’m sure the method of choice will also be affected by genre, particularly between fiction and nonfiction. Writing nonfiction one can’t simply write off the cuff without direction. Love your posts Chickie! <3

    1. Thanks my lovely. Agreed – I totally fucked up my first draft, and had to rewrite the whole thing. NEVER again. not ever. I think thats a great point about genre actually. its very true. For something with a lot of subplots and twists, I reckon an outline is much more important to ensure all the foreshadowing is in place. Great thinking batman <3

  7. I’m a pantser. I start with a short paragraph that summarizes what the book I want to write is about.

    The rough draft is a sprint.

    The revisions are a multi-layered mega marathon where every page is examined to make sure vital plot/theme/conflict/characterization/setting, etc. elements are there. The characters are often shallow after the sprint and depth comes from the blood, sweat and tears of the grueling marathon.

    1. I was the same as you. I also think I will always sprint the first draft. BUT I definitely learnt that my characters are a bit wayward and need a bit more guidance than I was giving them.

      What a way to describe it. I love it. That is exactly how I feel about the editing I am going through. Sigh.

  8. Great help Sacha. I tried to be a plotter but I suffered the same as you. I adore the three line trick. Beginning, middle, end. I will look forward to all the posts in this series.

  9. “I picked up the manuscript and nearly paper machΓ¨ myself a coffin out of it.” Ha ha ha. The best line!

    I love hearing about the way other people write. For me, pure pantsering led to way way way too much rewriting. Never again. I learned my lesson on the first book and changed my approach immediately.

    I like to think of myself as a plotter who leaves plenty of room for pantsing πŸ™‚ I tend to do the chapter outline but without chapters so there’s room to grow and contract as the story is written. After my outline is done, I apply the 7 points as a test, and I may tweak to beef up the action or intrigue here or there where a point is missed or weak. My outline starts very loosely but slowly solidifies as I add notes about details, themes, loose ends and other elements that need to be addressed later. By the time I start writing the end of the story, the outline is quite solid and the story wraps up well – in my mind, anyway πŸ™‚

    1. haha, glad I could amuse you – seriously, I nearly did too!

      WE share so many experiences. I never want to have to write the same novel twice – EVER AGAIN. I will never go pure pants again.

      We are so similar in our methods – although I see myself as a pantser that happens to do a bit of plotting! :p haha

      I start with an outline of what I know, more of an A, B C , D and Z and then the further I go, the more detail I add, and by the end theres a really solid outline, its a bit backwards, but it works.

      1. I think one of the first posts I ever read of yours was about your editing method, and I remember thinking, “That’s what I do too!” Funny, isn’t it? I am so looking forward to reading your book (remember to keep me in mind for beta reading – it you want – no pressure). πŸ™‚

        1. Do you know, I think I remember you reading it too! and I remember you saying we were similar! I will do – I’ve already collared people for this one, but perhaps the second in the series? I’ll have read some of your books by then too so I can always return the favour πŸ˜€

          1. What Ive had back so far has been crazy good. Lots of things I was blind to from having spent so long looking at it. I can’t wait to make the changes 😁😁

  10. I’m a pantser and still couldn’t use any of these excellent tips. I never know where the story is going to lead me – I just sit down and write – so doing anything ahead would be impossible, and would probably take the joy out of it for me. The most I have ever done is write some scenes ahead of time – if they were played out in my mind – and then left them to be put in when the time was right. I must be on the far edge of pantser.

    1. Well, I think thats awesome. I pants my entire first book, but I messed up big time, so I have tried to force some structure. It was painful, but I think I write better for it. Maybe as my skills grow I will be able to go back to my natural inclination to just pants πŸ˜€

  11. Fuck knows what I am really. I’d say panster but I plot in my head and hold a ton of gubbins that floats around like a rotting carcass in a crap detective thriller. 70% pantser, maybe. After draft one I write chapter summaries which then helps control the editing beast – means I can find things easily when needing to sort out plot holes and so on.

    1. what you are? You, my dear, are a Geoffle, and that’s all we need to know :p

      I do the chapter summaries too, and oddly I did it after draft one too! Oh god, do I have to agree with you again? This agreeing shite is getting far too frequent.

  12. Oh god! I’d love to be a plotter but I’m so not… the 7 point thing for every chapter would just make want to die of boredom and frustration… I’d never have written even one book if I tried that. A one page flow chart for the whole book is as good as it gets, I’m afraid! But I’m interested to see what other methods you’ve discovered too.

    1. haha, well I started out thinking Iwas a plotter. Then tried pantsing, and now I am just confused! haha jokes. I am somewhere in the middle. I pants until I can’t and then I plot. Such a filthy cheating undecided me :p

  13. 100% a Pantser. I always start a story with the ending, then I write the rest of it. However, against what Rowena heard, I’ve been told that I need to work on the moods and atmosphere in my stories. That’s something for the next set of stories, along with not head-hopping.

    1. But you also write short stories – I pants my way through shorts too, I was racking my brain to think if I ever plotted one and I don’t think I have. But as soon as it gets over about 10K I tend to need to write something down or else I lose all the subplots and points that need drawing together.

      1. I had to plot The Truth App when I rewrote it. Esther found too many mistakes. One was that most of the female characters had names beginning with the letter M, so she had to keep checking who was who. I must have been eating M & M’s at the time of write it. πŸ˜€ I had no idea what I had done.

  14. I’ve heard something similar to Rowena’s comment about pantsers and re-writing. I do think too much plotting can stifle the spontaneity of a story, but too much pantsing results in too many loose ends!

    I like to use a mixture of the two – plot out absolutely major, non-negotiable plot points, and then just pants away in between. It’s not totally loose because you’re still writing to a destination, but how you get there is totally up for grabs.

    1. Interesting. I reckon it was true for me – I had to rewrite the whole sodding book – I won’t be doing that again though. NO FUCKING WAY. So I will force myself an outline of some sorts – even if I have to flashlight my way or whatever.

          1. I joke that I’m dead on the inside, but it’s not really a joke! πŸ˜‚ I do rage and laughter. That’s it. That’s the two I got donated at birth.

            Have u used the emotion thesaurus by Angela Ackerman? It’s the bollocks πŸ™‚

  15. I want to thank you for this post. I have always struggled with beats and plot points. I couldn’t associate the vague descriptions of each point to what I was writing. But after watching the Dan Wells videos, I finally get it. For the first time. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Kathy, thanks for reading I’m so glad you liked it. I am thrilled that you now understand it. Dan wells is a teaching genius as far as I’m concerned I didn’t get it till I watched his videos either

Leave a Reply