Tuesday, October 13, 2015

NaNoWriMo Prep: Outlining vs. Pantsing

Today's prep topic brings us to what is perhaps one of the greatest dividers among writers: Using an outline versus writing by the seat of one's pants (also called "discovery writing").
I have done both, and I see merits to both sides. I'm not here to persuade you to my way of doing things, especially not if you're comfortable with your own method of plotting. But if this happens to be your first NaNoWriMo or you want to try something new, then let's explore different styles of drafting.

Discovery writing can be a lot of fun. It allows you to uncover your characters as you get to know them. Surprises often abound as you make spur of the moment decisions to try something new. With discovery writing, you probably have at least a vague idea of plot and who your main characters are, but there's plenty of room to grow and change as you write.

This is how my first NaNo project was. I had an idea for a girl and a boy to go on a road trip to see Shakespeare festivals and fall in love. That was all I had, and I ran with it. It was a lot of fun! I learned a lot about writing during that project.

I also learned a lot about editing, because it was a hot mess when I was finished. Remember last post, I told you that I killed the main character's mother so she'd have a reason to stay at home, but then I didn't have her think or feel anything about it at all? By the end of November I had discovered that yes, she did indeed have feelings about her mother's death. So when I edited, I had to go back and load up the front half of the novel with thoughts and feelings so that the ones I organically wrote in the end wouldn't feel out of place. For me, discovery writing usually means a lot of backtracking. Which is not always a bad thing.

With later attempts at NaNoWriMo, I've tried outlining in various degrees. For my 2012 project, I spent fifteen minutes at the end of each writing session figuring out where I'd go next. For 2013, I used Scrivener and listed out every single scene that would go in the novel, so that all I'd have to do in November was open up each scene and write until I made it to the next one.

I found that to be incredibly stifling.

In fact, I ended up discovering another character along the way that completely changed the course of the novel. I had to go back and add more scenes with this character, which of course messed up the scene list I'd so lovingly created back in October. But believe me, the novel is much better for it.

This year I have a synopsis for the novel I'll be writing in November. There will be room to stretch, but I also know the beginning, middle, and end. I think this happy medium between outlining and pantsing will make drafting both smooth and enjoyable. I'm looking forward to it!

Do you have a method of drafting that you love? Share in the comments!

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