The Great Debate: Outliner vs. Pantser
When you sit down to write a book, what sort of writer are you? Which method of writing works for you? Outliner or Pantser?
A pantser sits at the computer or with pen and paper and starts writing. They write until they reach the end. In their mind they see and hear all that’s going on in the story, and faithfully record every word. The dialogue between characters plays in their mind, along with the actions the characters are involved in. When a pantser writes, they have a general idea of the plot, theme, and the acts of their story. Nothing stands between their creativity and what they write down. The pantser doesn’t want to spend their creative time planning their story, they want to start writing.
There is a drawback to being a pantser. When you read through your first draft, you notice plot holes or characters that really don’t fit. Your timeline might be messed up, you have laundry lists of descriptions. Laundry lists was my biggest bane. If what you are describing has nothing to do with the plot, leave it out. You will find yourself doing a great deal of editing and cutting scenes. This is the situation I currently find myself in. I wrote the first draft without any plan and now I spend my days editing. Believe me, the editing can drive you up the wall!
An outliner sits at their computer or with pen and paper and plan their story. They may spend a day or two writing an outline or several months. The outliner may write a couple of sentences for each chapter, then they start to write the story. Then you have the heavy outliner. This person plans out each chapter and scene before they write start on their book. They include their hook — their opening sentence. They plan out each chapter and scene, making notes about their main character, the antagonist, and the minor characters. The heavy outliner leaves nothing to chance, covering the beginning, middle, and end of their book. If they did research for certain elements of their story, they include that as well. Outlining in this manner keeps the writer on track with their story. Rarely do they hit snags in their plot or confusion in their time line. The characters and antagonists behave themselves as well.
If you are the type who loves details, you could spend as much time writing your outline as you do the actual book. There’s nothing wrong with that, since you are building a solid skeleton of your story. When you sit down to write it, you begin to flesh out the bones, giving it a solid form, and most importantly — a voice. In order to have less editing once the first draft is finished, outlining the story will help in this. Another thing to consider, an outline can also be used to create a chapter by chapter synopsis. You have the information for each chapter, all you need to do is flesh it out a bit. Remember, the details you put in the outline are up to you. There is no set method or form.
I am a reformed pantser. I’m learning to outline my work so I don’t run into trouble when I’m writing the story. My outlines won’t be short, but they won’t be a hundred pages long. I’ll be in the middle, between twenty-five and fifty pages in length. This will give me a good skeleton to work from, and if I need to, I can always add to the outline. For works I’ve already completed the first drafts, I’m going back through and reverse outlining them. This helps to find problems and allows me to make corrections during the revision and editing process. Yes, it’s a time-consuming task, but I will do what it takes to improve my stories.
Each writer has their own method of putting words on paper or their screen. I’m not for or against either method for writing. To decide which method works best for you, try both.
May the words ever flow!