If you missed part 1, find it here.
As I mentioned in the last post, finding a balance between pantsing and plotting was elusive and frustrating. So, I decided to take off my pants.
Taking Off My Pants
Well, not exactly, but I did read Libbie Hawker’s ebook, Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing.
Faster? Yes, please. All of my outlining was starting to feel like a way avoid actually writing. However, I didn’t want to just pants the book thing again and end up where I’d started. I also knew that the first draft of Flight of the Ceo San, which I’d written with a bare-bones structure, was in way better shape than that of Strange Bedfellows.
Take Off Your Pants, a short 108 pages, turned out to be just what I needed. Hawker’s three-legged story structure and five-element story core made sense to me, but more than that, after she explains her theory, she shows step by step how she used her formula to outline her own novel. Her explanation of pacing helped to explain the structure of a scene to me in a way that clicked and that turns out to naturally fit with other Goal/Conflict/Disaster structures that I’ve read about.
Her elements, in the form of thwarts and displaying flaws, made sense for me in a way that plot points and pinch points don’t, even though they could be defined as the same thing. Pinch points can be easy to spot once their written, but telling myself to write a pinch point, a scene in which “everything changes for the character,” just seemed vague. “Show your character’s flaw in action,” as paraphrased from Take Off Your Pants—THAT I can do.
I outlined the Strange Bedfellows rewrite as I read Hawker’s book and finished over the course of two or three one-and-a-half-hour writing sessions. My outline was short, only 807 words.
Things really began to come together after that. Using my shiny new outline, I moved on to writing scenes on index cards, a la Rachael Stephen, complete with the Conflict/Motive/Effect plus Setting on each one. All the while, the information I had learned from my character interviews was swimming around in my head, making them tangible entities. So, after spending most of January and more than half of February on this whole process, I was ready to write again. It was a glorious feeling.
My paranormal romance is now a solid urban fantasy with lots of series potential that it didn’t have before. It has a new name: Blood Mastery. The characters are still there, but it is a completely different novel. The second protagonist has taken a backseat to the first and has changed so much that I renamed her. The story went from third person point of view to first person.
What I learned is that for me, less is more. I do need to at least dig deeply into my main characters to give them their own unique voices, but I get impatient with too much outlining, and when I get impatient, I start to lose my motivation for writing—not good.
So for me, outlining is good as long as there is not too much of it. My new method makes sense for me personally, and I’ll likely continue to use it in the future. The Hero’s Journey structure was extremely helpful, but not every novel I write will be a hero’s journey.
With my scene cards, I have a brief road map to get me started writing every day. I have pacing and Motive/Conflict/Effect to consider after I write each scene to make sure that I have hit all of the relevant points. No more staring at the screen, going What was I thinking there? Now, what am I supposed to write?
Will it pay off? I will know for sure only when this draft is finished and I send it to some readers, but I have a good feeling.
Lessons for You
What I’m not saying is that you should forget all of the other advice and run out and buy Take Off Your Pants. You can if you want to, but what I’m really saying is do your research. Put in the time learning, but when something clearly isn’t working for you and starts to feel like nothing but a grind, try something else.
Like any experience, you can learn what works for you only if you go through the process and try new things. Like that little slider on an old-fashioned standing scale, slide back and forth between pantsing and plotting until you reach your own personal balance. Just as your weight changes, that balance may change from book to book and along your writing journey. Wherever you end up, you will take bits from each path that you have explored and mix them with your own authorly instincts to create a unique voice and a unique method, forging a new path that is just different enough to be yours alone.
Explore, learn, do well, and keep writing.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? What tricks have you used to find your balance?