Some of us like to know where we’re going and some of us like surprises. I remember reading that John Grisham, for example, meticulously plots his novels from beginning to end. Before he starts writing, it’s not unusual for him to have developed a 40-page outline. While he’s no Shakespeare, he’s definitely a pro when it comes to crafting a page-turning story, so he must be doing something right.
“Plotter” or “Pantser” — which are you? Do you like to map out a project in advance or do you write more or less by the “seat of your pants” — making up you plot as you go and then fine-tuning it? I’m half & half. When I started my YA novel, I was in “Pantser” mode: I began with a set of characters and just the glimmer of a plot. But as my novel unfolded, I began outlining scenes and chapters to give me a better idea of my story’s flow.
In his article, “To Outline or Not to Outline?” Brian Klems, the online editor of Writer’s Digest observed: “It’s an age-old debate: Should writers meticulously outline a story before beginning or should they simply sit down at the keyboard and start typing, blindly trusting that the characters will reveal what should happen next? Like most things in life, I believe it’s both/and, not either/or. Even the most fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer has a general idea of where things
Brian also offered some practical tips on developing a fluid story sketching strategy:
Build a rough story arc: Once you have a general idea of the story you want to tell, divide it into three “acts” and jot down a few sentences about what happens in each. This will give you a vision: a “big picture” that you can use as a touchstone.
Sketch out your chapters: With the overall story you envision roughly mapped out, break it down into chapters. Here, again, don’t get overly involved in details. Just try blocking out as many chapters as you can in two or three sentences to focus your writing sessions.
Stay loose: Remember that your outline and chapter break-downs aren’t cast in stone: Details and detours will emerge as you write, but as Brian notes, “this approach will give your imagination a springboard…. From the beginning, realize that it’s okay to stray from your sketched-out story. In fact, you should as you dive into it. Stories have a way of evolving as they unfold in the process, buy you must be in motion, moving the story forward, in order for it to present itself.”
Sounds like a workable strategy: sketch out your story, stay loose, and keep going. And write on!