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Moving From Pantser to Planner (1 Viewer)

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TheMightyAz

Mentor
I'm considering a move from pantser to planner and would like examples if possible just to see what the process entails. Software advice would be welcome, but actual examples from planners of their own work would be much better.

I'm aware there are also flowcharts, but because I've never used either a flowchart or planned out a story (apart from a few notes here and there), I can't 'visualise' either, and that's what I'm hoping to get here.

So when people say 'plan' what exactly goes into those plans? What do they look like (in general).
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
I can tell you what I do when planning.

I write a short synopsis for each chapter before I actually write it. Then I write as many notes, ideas, images, etc. as I can think of.

The ball must begin rolling on chapter one towards an inevitable conclusion and not stop until the end. This is Aristotle's idea of a good story. I sometimes place my notes and plot points into brackets on a sheet of paper and connect them with arrows.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
So when people say 'plan' what exactly goes into those plans? What do they look like (in general).

For example, when a story idea pops up in my head, I usually grab one of my notebooks after some careful pondering, and write out an idea
sheet to get an overall picture of what I'm about to start writing. The idea sheet includes the title, setting, main plot, characters, and point
form notes on scenes or plot points that need to be factored in.

I like to number the scenes and plot points in the order in which they go in the story, also making point form notes for each one and what
I wish to accomplish therein. Once the idea sheet is about 75% complete, I start writing and taking into account all the notes I jotted down
beforehand. The longer the story, the more notes I have in. Can be anywhere from one to three full pages, more if it's for a novella.

-JJB
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I'm a bit of a hybrid.

I've told this story before: For my first novel I pants'd twelve chapters and stuck, for a very long time. I finally realized I didn't like the dilemma I'd left at the end of chapter 12, so I backed up a couple of pages and came up with a different problem. Then I outlined the rest of the book, in the form of a series of paragraphs that told the rest of the story. That was my safety net to make sure I didn't get stuck again. I wound up only including about two-thirds of the story notes in that outline, but material to work with was there as needed. The plot outline for (about) the last half of the books was 4500 words. I kept a separate file where I added brief notes about each character as I added them to the story. I finished the book in a few weeks time after I finished the outline.

I also wrote a series of notes for the sequel to that book, but it only covered the major bones of the plot. I adlibbed quite a few events, but the main line followed my original concept. The set of notes I used was 900 words. You can see it was quite a bit shorter than my half-book outline, but I had a clear idea of the story in my head right from the start.

The synopsis for the book I just finished was 1400 words, organized into paragraphs which each supposed the events of a chapter. Those notes didn't include everything that wound up happening in the book, but they did guide the general progress. I also had a spreadsheet with notes about 40 potential characters and their general roles, since I knew going in I was going to have that many characters.

On the other hand, the sci-fi book I wrote last year was pants from start to finish. I had an initial idea that lasted for six chapters, then I realized I needed to shake things up. After I did that, I got ten chapters out of my MC solving those issues, then four chapters to wrap things up. I generally kept a plan in my head (for each of the three sections) that covered the next chapter or two, but I never wrote a synopsis. I did keep a list of characters as I created them.

So the furthest I've gone is sets of paragraphs of varying detail, never any sort of flow chart. I add or drop planned scenes when I get more interesting ideas during writing.

For the other three novels, I adapted material from the interactive adventures I wrote for the games I created for my first company. I needed about 20K words at the end of each of them to polish off where my players had stopped, and I pants'd each of those conclusions with no notes of any kind. However, at that point I was already working with well-developed characters who were in the middle of solving an adventure, so I had no challenges plotting the rest of the action.
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
Never used any kind of tracking software. At one point I wrote out a general summary for Book I - trouble was, when it came time to write it, the plot I'd staked out didn't track with the narrative as it unfolded. That's more less turned me away from overly detailed outlines. I need an idea where we're going and what should probably happen. Otherwise, being yoked to any kind of plan usually results in mush.

One practice where I have had nominal success is throwing down a thumbnail sketch of the Big Picture (usually a page or so) and collecting character quotes or turns of phrase that pertain to major plot points. I prefer this one since a quote establishes character voice and personality, suggests what's happening, and takes up less page space than writing complete scenes for future use. Quotes are also infinitely more flexible when it comes time to address certain developments. Certainly easier than trying to shoehorn pre-written set pieces into the larger narrative.

It's a weird system, but...consider the source.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
From what I'm reading in general, it's not actually much different from what I already do. I'm a pantser but I have most of what's been said in my head before I start. Obviously for a novel, that's going to be much more difficult, which is probably why I've started three and failed to finish. I think I'll reserve the more planned approach for novels and use my usual approach for short stories. I DO need to write more 'little' notes down though. I know for certain I had scenes planned in my head when I first got the idea from Apparition, but that was over 15 years ago now and most of those scenes have been forgotten.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Don't do it @AZ. This is a fundamental - like political parties. Now I know you don't like 'Math.' Imagine triple 'Math?'
 

Matchu

Senior Member
If I was devious I'd suggest this was some kind of plan, @AZ? Your genius to corral all the planners into one location, airlift to 'Business Insider'? I back you, but nothing written or official.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
From what I'm reading in general, it's not actually much different from what I already do. I'm a pantser but I have most of what's been said in my head before I start. Obviously for a novel, that's going to be much more difficult, which is probably why I've started three and failed to finish. I think I'll reserve the more planned approach for novels and use my usual approach for short stories. I DO need to write more 'little' notes down though. I know for certain I had scenes planned in my head when I first got the idea from Apparition, but that was over 15 years ago now and most of those scenes have been forgotten.
Surprisingly to me, we are all smidgens of both pantsing and planning.

I usually write notes of things that should have happen in each chapter. I work out the things I need to cover so the end logically follows. There's no reference to the number of scenes or specifics on how I'm going to incorporate these markers, I just know I need to cover them to have the end make sense.

The rest is just straight up pantsing.

AFAIK, most writers operate this way (on some level).
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
As it is with all things creative, there is no right or wrong way to plot (or pants) a novel. The trick is to figure out YOUR way of doing it.

But, nothing remains static. Writing a novel is IMO a lot like herding cats, essentially it's barely managed chaos. I'm a proponent of doing a postmortem every time you complete a project, to consider what worked, what didn't, and how you can improve.

My process as of today is:

  • <IDEA!!> Most of these come while I'm waiting to fall asleep - or - while I'm asleep (I'm a lucid dreamer).
  • Next morning - is the idea something I might want to write?
  • If yes, then I jot down some notes either in MS Word or in a paper notebook. Does it still look good and am I excited about it?
  • If yes, then I break the story line in to segments in another MS Worddoc, and concurrently use Excel to detail my characters, the the world of the story. Is it still something I want to write?
  • If yes, is it a series? If yes <that's a different process>
  • If no, (it's a novel) then I start with a coarse plot outline - just a chapter name and one vague line about what's going on.
  • I then begin elaborating about what will go on in the chapter. First twelve lines, then another version with 20 lines, then another version with an entire page devoted to each chapter. Concurrently I'm still fleshing out the characters in Excel - including speech patterns, their motivation, drivers, likes, dislikes, etc. I also write more about the world within the spreadsheet.
  • Then it's time to start writing the first draft. Initially I use one Worddoc for each chapter.
  • As I write I constantly refer to my plot outline doc and the spreadsheet. On the plot outline I grey out areas that I've covered. On the spreadsheet I add any new (usually minor) characters that show up.

That's kinda it. Easy-peezy, right?
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Really I think most of us are too old to be writers.

Most of the writers in the 'Great Writers Anthology' died at 34 or a 49 kind of an age, and we're just an embarrassment to children in our rocking and our writing chairs. If you did not start at 3 with the novels at 19 you will be a creative writer forever. Most people in the outside world know this truth. Only accidentally - I mention these facts of life, y'know. And soz.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Really I think most of us are too old to be writers.

Most of the writers in the 'Great Writers Anthology' died at 34 or a 49 kind of an age, and we're just an embarrassment to children in our rocking and our writing chairs. If you did not start at 3 with the novels at 19 you will be a creative writer forever. Most people in the outside world know this truth. Only accidentally - I mention these facts of life, y'know. And soz.

Perhaps - but, young people haven't experienced much, so what could they write about?
 

ehbowen

Senior Member
Perhaps - but, young people haven't experienced much, so what could they write about?

Snoopys-Dark-and-Stormy-Night-Second-Line.jpg
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Thank you @indianroads. I ummm was a bit of an [email protected] last night. More serious point is what short lives the writers lived. Plenty of older scribes to counter-balance a leaky theory. :)
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
Perhaps - but, young people haven't experienced much, so what could they write about?

It's not so much what they write about - it's that they write in the first place. Ideally they'll also be reading fiction as opposed to wasting money on the kind of books that promise shortcuts to fame and stardom.

The early writing years (say from the age the fifteen to thirty or thereabout) are pretty much a wasteland. This isn't because they lack talent or drive, but rather because most would-be authors lack the life experience and understanding to construct a decent work or the refined grasp of the story they want to tell and the best way to do so. They may also be hampered by an absence of useful criticism. Alternately, they may be too susceptible to critters who push for conformity by way of killing style and voice.

This is partially why so much fiction from younger writers feels uneven and lacks the lived-in quality of more durable works. Another aspect likely has to do with the ease of publishing these days - plenty of self-pubbed writers on Amazon who jumped the turnstile and bypassed any editing or revision so they could see their name in print.

Given, it would suck pretty bad to get into this racket and immediately realize success is a decade-plus away...but them's the breaks.
 
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Cephus

Senior Member
I've always been a planner, mostly, I think, because I started out writing mysteries and I don't think you can write a good mystery by the seat of your pants. I've now been doing it for so long that my brain automatically thinks in terms of story structure and I can plot a book in a couple of days. I'm starting a new one today and by Friday, I should have a thorough idea of what I'm writing so I can start on Monday. I'll be done in about a month and then the process starts over again.

I don't use spreadsheets, I don't use flowcharts, I just make a very detailed numbered list of elements in the story and when I'm done, I have a list of chapters, along with everything that happens in each. Then, it's just a matter of filling in the prose.
 

Cephus

Senior Member
Really I think most of us are too old to be writers.

Most of the writers in the 'Great Writers Anthology' died at 34 or a 49 kind of an age, and we're just an embarrassment to children in our rocking and our writing chairs. If you did not start at 3 with the novels at 19 you will be a creative writer forever. Most people in the outside world know this truth. Only accidentally - I mention these facts of life, y'know. And soz.

The average age for publishing your first book is 36. Most successful writers are in their 50s or above. There are exceptions to every rule, but the statistics still apply.
 
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