by Tamera Lynn Kraft
The question is asked at every writer’s conference. “Should I make an outline of my novel before I start writing?” The truth is you might be asking the wrong question. The real question you should be asking is, “What kind of pre-planning should I do?”
For years, I never completely understood plotters or pansters (seat of the pants writers) because I didn’t really fit into either category. At some point, I came to the realization I didn’t have to be completely in one camp or the other. There are a myriad of possibilities on how to pre-plan a novel, and making a complete outline is only one of them. I’ll talk about those in a moment, but first let’s discuss what plotters and pansters are.
Plotters: Plotters are those organized people who make a detailed outline of their novels before they even think of writing the first draft. Basically, their outlines are their first draft. This works well for some people because they are wired that way. Others are stifled by what they consider a rigid outline.
If you are a true plotter, here are some sites and books you might find helpful:
Structuring Your Novel by KM Weiland
How to Write a Brilliant Novel by Susan May Warren
My Brilliant Book Buddy by Susan May Warren
Panster: Pansters are writers who do very little or no plotting before they start writing. These are the people who give plotters spasms. They discover their plot points as they write. Most pansters don’t think they need resources. After all, they have their creativity to guide them, but their creativity can write them into a corner. Pansters may not do pre-planning, but the smart ones understand the more they know about the principles of plot, the better. It takes a certain amount of storytelling knowledge to be a good punster. Usually during the second draft, the panster will make outlines and check plot points to make sure they don’t have plot holes. My Book Therapy listed above is a great book for a panster to plug in the plot points after the first draft. Here are some books and resources to help a panster know the story elements better.
Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story by James Scott Bell
Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell
Story Trumps Structure by Steven James
Middlers: Most writers are somewhere in the middle. They may plan characters and a few plot points but they don’t overly outline their novels. What works best for you will probably be some variation of the above. You might find the signpost plot points of Super Structure or the Lindy Hop highlights of How to Write a Brilliant Novel works well, or you might need more or less structure. Whatever works for you, it will only benefit you to learn story plotting and structure techniques.
Experiment with all these methods whether the entire stucture or only the highlights. Chances are you’ll find you aren’t a true plotter or panster but are somewhere in the middle. Sometimes you’ll even find a method that works well for one novel doesn’t work for the other. That’s okay. Whatever process you use will help you become a better writer.