Why a Pantser Started Outlining & Structuring Her Novels

The truth is, when what you write isn't good enough for you any more, you must become better. You must always strive to be better because that is what living (and writing) is all about.

I am a Pantser in the true sense of the word.

Disclaimer: I will NEVER tell you that you HAVE to Outline & Structure to be a better writer. Never.

I spurned outlining and structuring for much of my writing life. I am a free-loving, disorganized being. I can't tell you how many times an idea has been lost in the papers lying around my room. I can't tell you how many times I'd lose a story because I did not know how to commit myself to it. Later,  when I came across those forgotten story ideas, all I saw was failure.

I thought being a Pantser was the only way to write. But wanted to write good novels, I was hungry for deeper meaning to edge the pages of my stories, and I went searching for a way to do that.
So much home wrapped up in one picture.
I didn't want to touch outlining and structuring. I wasn't ready to go there. I believed that it would kill my creativity instead of advance it, that was the biggest thing. That was what I was afraid of. Not being creative.

And then, NaNoWriMo found me. I smile really wide when I say this because November is my dearest and most wonderful friend. The moment I decided to take November's writing challenge I knew without a doubt: I was going to have to outline my novel.

That was my first taste of outlining, and it didn't taste too bad. But still it wasn't enough. So I went deeper.  I read books and raked through writing websites to find what I needed to make better stories. And I tried lots of things. Tried schedules. Tried emulating writers I loved. And I wrote. A lot. These things did help. Strangely, I kept being pushed back to Outlining and Structuring. It held something, the path to creating the essence I wanted to write into my stories, because stories are always deeper on the inside than they seem, or they are not good stories.

There were three things that always drove my desire to write:
  1. I was not satisfied with my work as writer
  2. I wanted to be a better writer
  3. I knew there must be more to learn
And that is exactly why I started Outinling & Structuring. Because I wanted to be better and it gave me a way to help myself be better. This doesn't mean, however, that I have stopped being a Pantser. I pants regularly, especially during the parts of the year that aren't NaNoWriMo. I still have dozens of half-written stories, baskets and drawers full of unwritten ideas. I am still a Pantser in the purest definition of the word, and you should only Structure & Outline if you think it is also for you.

I promise you, taking a little more time to really care about the stories that entered my life is really what made all the difference.

Below is a condensed version of, and how I personally use, Outlining and Structuring. Read on if you would like to know more about this fabulous world.

Structuring Is a Map, Not a Rule

I was on the very verge of giving up. Probably for the millionth time (do writers ever really give up?). I kept thinking there had to be something missing, something I was not taking full advantage of.

When I found out about Plot Points and that specific events happened at specific places in a story, and that all stories followed this very similar pattern, all of the sudden I had a map. I didn't have rules, I didn't have margins, I had a map.

And the thing about maps is that you can follow any path you choose to get where you want to go. 

Plot Points are moments, single moments when something changes within your story. To sum up, they are:

The Inciting Event
The Key Event
The 1st Plot Point - Moment of No Return
The 1st Pinch Point - Reminder of Antagonist's Power
The Midpoint - The Moment of Truth
The 2nd Pinch Point - Reminder of Antagonist's Power
The 3rd Plot Point - The Dark Moment
The Climactic Moment - Defeat of Antaongist or Protagonist
The Resolution 

These special moments gave me a map by which to follow my story, yet still gave me the freedom I needed to be able to write how I pleased. Just knowing these were there to guide me kind of rocked my writing world. Just a little bit.

Outlining Is a Travel Guide, Not a Inspiration Killer

If Structuring is a map, then Outlining in your travel guide. The travel guide that tells you all about the chasm up ahead on this mountainous trail, explains what it's for and why it's there.

Outlining guides you between your Plot Points.

Outlining shows you how to get from one Plot Point to another and what it's going to take to get there.

Your Outlining Travel Guide helps navigate you through each point, but will also help weave in the sub-plots, minor characters, themes, and your main character's arc. It will help you see what you're going to need now to make the other Plot Points further ahead make sense and brought to their full advantage.

I, as a Pantser, came to see Outlining and Structuring as a further freedom to be creative and not a hindrance. Thinking of them as maps and guides opened up so many more possibilities for themes and characters, dramatic moments and dialogue. I whip out my map as I'm writing and plan while I go. There is still so much freedom to be had here.

Outlining & Structuring is NOT the way for EVERY writer to become better. The way you find to become a better writer is not going to be the same way I did. But there's no harm in reading a book. Just be careful. It could change your life.



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