Friday, May 19, 2017

Pantsing The Story With Outlines

I’m excited to write my next novel. Excited because not only do I get to live vicariously through my characters again, but I’ll also get to experiment with a new writing process. I have learned much from writing the first novel, and I’ve been refining the process through short stories. With those, I’m ready to embark on the second novel.

Now it might sound like an oxymoron to say “pantsing with outlines,” but after you read this blog post, you’ll realize that it’s not.


There are two processes I am experimenting with: beat list and scene teasers.

First one is beat list. I got this idea from Dean Wesley Smith. I had recently read his book called “Writing in the Dark”, a book about writing by the seat of your pants. What I’ve gathered is that Dean would summarize what he had written after a writing session. Along with the summary, he would also make note of the scene’s time and location.

I like this idea because I had problems with my first novel with regards to knowing where I am in the story. To get me back in the writing groove, I would read the last three pages of the manuscript, which would cut into my writing time. With a summary handy, I can just glance at it and immediately remember where I’d left off.

Also, if I ever break my arm or something else that would put my writing on hiatus, I’ll have a summary waiting for me. That was one of my concerns with pantsing without an outline: If shit suddenly hits the fan, I would have to read through my manuscript just to get back into the groove.

With that said, here’s what the beat list looks like:

Chapter tells you what the chapter number is for the beats. Date, Time and Location is (obviously) the date, time and location of the chapter or beats.

The columns Beat 1 and Beat 2 are for the beats themselves. I am following Robert McKee’s format on notating beats. The format looks like this: Character VERB-ING this or that. So for example, Barry PLACING his hands on Theo.

For every action there is reaction and more action. You will notice the progression of beats on the above screenshot.

The Notes and Revision Notes column are basically notes I leave for myself with regards to previous chapters or beats. It can have any type of note, and one type of note I make is “retcon notes.”

What’s a retcon note? Well, if a past scene or chapter needs to be drastically changed, I’ll make note of it, but will write forward as if the change had been already made. I don’t go back to fix or change scenes; I save that for the revision phase. Momentum is key, and having a first draft finished is very important. You don’t want to be trapped in an endless loop of revisions.

Alright. Second experiment is teasers.

This one I discovered although I doubt I’m alone in this. On the bottom of the manuscript, I will write down what the next two scenes or sequels are. Here’s a screenshot:

You will notice that I follow the Scene/Sequel format. If you don’t know what that is, check these links out: Scene & Sequel.

Once I’ve completed writing the scene or sequel, I will delete the teaser and move to the next. After my writing session, I will write down what the next teasers are, preparing me for the next writing session. Often, I will really tease myself by not writing down a scene’s outcome or a sequel’s decision.

I limit it to two teasers because I don’t want to overplan. Like what E.L. Doctorow said: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

So those are the processes that I’m experimenting on. Over time I will refine and enhance it. I am still pantsing my story (because I love writing with uncertainty), but I build my outlines as I go along. Now, “pantsing with outlines” doesn’t sound like an oxymoron anymore, does it?

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