The tale of a reformed Pantser

What Outlining Taught Me

By Patti Larsen

Let’s talk about outlining, shall we? All you pantsers might want to put aside your rose colored glasses for a few minutes and see if plotting is really the horrid creativity killer you really think it is.

I beg to differ. And while I know there are writers who absolutely MUST fly by their seat, the benefits of good plotting can’t be denied.

May I say first I was born a pantser and insisted on writing from the deepest pits of my soul from the moment an idea hit me. I was one of you, once upon a time, a dreamer, certain any amount of plotting would only serve to sever my connection to my muse and drive all of my work into the darkest pit of crap.

Guess what?

I was writing crap anyway. I’d jump on an idea, all gung ho and full of vigor, make it 3K or so and just peter out. Why, you ask? Because I got lost, was confused. The idea became jumbled, miss matched, turned into something it wasn’t… I found it frustrating and very difficult. No wonder it took almost a year to write a book. I was spending so much time rewriting, redirecting, adding, subtracting… and hating my work and what it turned into that I found it hard to finish anything.

Is this sounding familiar? Again, I know there are those of you out there who are rolling your inner (and probably outer) eyes at me, that you never have this problem, your work leaps out at you, fully formed and perfect. And to that I say: Wow. Good on you. Lucky and talented and amazing.

For the rest of us… not so lucky and talented and amazing. Let me correct that. We are those things, but just need a little help to get where we’re going.

The first book I plotted felt foreign and yet amazing at the same time. It was the first novel I’d tackled in years, after spending more time writing screen and teleplays, working on independent films. When I realized I needed to go back to fiction, I decided to apply the tools I’d learned in the other discipline. By then, storyboarding and plotting was second nature. It’s almost impossible to pants a script, especially when you’re the one filming it.

What I discovered amazed me. It did translate, and even better than I expected. I learned so much about how I write and the way my mind works it blew me away. And the best part was, I did most of my story editing in the plotting phase, allowing me to get the book the way I wanted it before I committed to those 92,000 words.

Yes, surprises and the unexpected popped up when I was finally satisfied and began to put words to screen, but they were mostly details, not major plot shifts. I’d allowed myself to explore the entire book (and series) before I wrote a word.

It was the coolest thing I’d ever done. And rather than remove my creativity from the process, it enhanced it. I was able to schedule writing time so easily, to absorb myself in what I was writing because I didn’t have to worry about what came next. No writer’s block, very little excuse for procrastination. Unnecessary because I already knew.

That first book flowed out of me like silk, and in three weeks it was done. Done. I’ve had it professionally edited since then. And my editor loved it. Only had detail notes for me. No major changes, no plot shifts. The book fit.

I now use this technique to outline full series before writing the first book. That way I know from start to finish what happens–never losing the thread of the story, watching it unfold, book after book, into a well connected and fleshed out trail all the way to the end.

I’ve been using this method now, both personally and teaching it to others, for about three years, through eighteen completed novels and countless more in full outline version, ready to be written. Eight have gone through professional edits, five are published. My friends and fellow writers call me a machine.

But I’m not. At all. I’m just taking advantage of the tools of the trade and the benefits of knowing where I’m going and the path I’m taking to get there.

So, you lovely pantsers out there, maybe it’s time to try it. Just once. You can keep it secret if you want and not tell a soul. Hide your plotting attempts in a dark corner of your closet. Or, better yet, feel free to contact me if you need a little guidance the first time.

Happy plotting!

About the Author: Patti Larsen is a middle grade, young adult and adult author with a passion for the paranormal who writes a whole lot of thrillers for someone who is afraid of the dark. Her YA thriller series, The Hunted, is available on Her YA paranormal series, The Hayle Coven Novels, begin their release on October 15th with Family Magic. Her middle grade novel, The Ghost Boy of MacKenzie House comes this spring from Acorn Press. She lives on the East Coast of Canada with her very patient husband and four massive cats.

You can find her:

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On Twitter: – !/PattiLarsen

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6 comments on “The tale of a reformed Pantser

  1. That is amazing. I am a confessed pantser and face those obstacles you spoke of- hence my collections of unfinished stories. This is something I will have to try in earnest. Happy writing : )

  2. The first book of my series was like butter. The second book I struggled through revision after revision, adding and then taking away subplots, scenes, conflicts–all with a timeline looming overhead. The third book … guess who’s now outlining now? 🙂 The outline itself is rough at best, and I still like to creatively wing some of the character’s traits. But I’m finding that subplots are coming much easier, and it’s nice to see where they are heading before investing thousands of words. I look forward to seeing if the final product of the last book is more cohesive. From the looks of it, the answer’s obvious!

    • WOW good for you, Elizabeth! Finishing a book you love is a huge accomplishment. But I agree… the sequels can stumble after that… I’m happy to hear you’re a plotter hybrid now 😉

  3. Thank you for this post! I wrote my first novel without an outline or prior plotting. I am happyish with it 🙂 While I like the book there’s something missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. As I start my second, I have decided to make a detailed outline and plot it before I begin. Good to know I’m headed in the right direction!

    • A thought for you: With Undead Dead Girl, the first book I wrote, I wound up doing an outline after it was done. It helped show me the pacing of my book. Huge blocks got cut because they didn’t mover the plot. Other things grew to tell a more complete story. The outline was perfect for showing me that because it included major plots, relationship development (which was a little herky jerky…it was pretty much a she likes him – she likes him not sort of a thing.), and sub plots. Maybe something like that will help you.

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