I’m not a plotter. I don’t outline stories usually– it doesn’t work for me. However, I like writing in large quantities, and author Rachel Aaron postulates that productivity is a combination of writing at a productive time, being enthusiastic about the scene you’re writing, and knowing where the story is going. The first time I read this, I thought I’d try it out– I quickly figured out what helped me write faster and made use of that. I couldn’t write at specific times each day, so I substituted that with 15-minute sprints. As a pantser, I’m flexible with my enthusiasm; if I’m not thrilled with a scene, I throw out that idea and write a different, more awesome version. Knowing where the story was going… eh, I could do without that.
Plotting novels is a glamorous idea. An outline lets you think about an idea in a bit more depth, figuring out where the major plot holes are going to be before they pop up. Unfortunately, as I outlined, my enthusiasm decreased. If I couldn’t change scenes and add plot twists at the drop of a hat, I couldn’t keep things as exciting as I wanted. Writing became less fun and more of a chore.
Thus, I discarded that idea. I had done well without outlines before– I didn’t mind going without them again. And although plot holes have abounded in these recent novels, I’m still enthusiastic enough about the stories that I can weed them out in editing. Enthusiasm seemed to have much more value than planning.
After reading about Rachel Aaron’s process again, I reconsidered. I definitely wanted to keep enthusiasm in my writing– full outlines weren’t going to work. But there were definitely times as I wrote where I didn’t know where the scene was going, and my enthusiasm and productivity plummeted. I would sit for minutes trying to think up a name for a character, or stumble through descriptions of a building I hadn’t even considered before. Did they need to turn left or right? Should the name start with S or Z? Is it a porcupine or a hedgehog? These little questions slowed me down.
What’s the answer, then? A full outline wouldn’t give me those things. Usually when I outlined, or even when I wrote a pitch of a novel, I would choose different names or no names at all– once I began writing, I would change names around. Obviously, planning long before I began to write wasn’t a good idea.
So, I decided to try out micro-outlining on Desolation. Instead of doing a list of bullet points and figuring out the entire story at once, I took it scene by scene, as I was writing. Before I began a scene I’d sit down for five minutes and figure out who the characters were, what the setting was, and try to figure out a defining emotion that I could try to carry through the scene. I would figure out why my characters were doing certain things, write down any plot twists I wanted to come up, and jot down some witty comeback or emotional phrase I wanted someone to say. It was just a way to figure out the stuff beforehand that would hang me up while I was writing.
It worked, more or less. As a pantser, I will always jump at plot twists that occur to me as I’m writing, but having a little outline written five minutes before allowed me to plan the scene and jump in without losing any enthusiasm. I figured out logistics of operations, layouts of buildings, even trains of thought I wanted to follow. I did everything but actually write the scene, and only for one scene at a time. By the time that was finished, I had a starting place for the scene and an ending place, occasionally complete with a first line so I could start writing immediately. It worked wonders. Last week I managed a 10k day with the help of a lot of Tchaikovsky and individual planning.
If you’re a pantser, try this out. Take a paragraph and go for it. Even if you’re a plotter, this might help– bullet point outlines don’t do everything. Have fun with it, and tell me how it works.