I admit it, I’ve always been a pantser, but after attending Larry Brooks' class on The Six Core Competencies of Storytelling at LDStorymakers I may be reforming into an outliner.
A Pantster is someone who writes by the seat of their pants. They sit down with a concept and just write to see where it goes. Stephen King talks about this kind of writing in his book ON WRITING. His advice is to start with a situation and then write, write, write and see what comes out. (A side note, I thoroughly enjoyed ON WRITING and I feel like I learned a lot from it.)
An Outliner is someone who outlines their book from beginning to end before they write it then they follow that outline as they write.
On the surface, being a pantser seems like a very cool, very pure method of writing; sit down, open up your brain to your muse, and let the ideas flow. I remember reading a quote by Ellen Raskin, author of the WESTING GAME, she said something like this, "What fun is writing a book when you know the ending?"
Even as a panster, I can’t imagine writing a novel as complicated as the WESTING GAME or any of Stephen Kings’ novels without some kind of outline to keep the story straight. (Yes, I’ve already accepted that both of these authors are smarter than I am.)
When I started my first novel, I basically had an idea for a beginning, an idea for an end, and a few scenes in between. I sat down and let the ideas flow, and flow and flow and flow. What I ended up with was an 87,000 word “fun story,” (according to my husband), that had some elements of plot in it, but often waxed episodic. I wrote scenes and situations that I loved, but some, (maybe even many), of those scenes took the story nowhere. Several drafts later I still love my story, but I’m not sure I’ve refined it down to a basic plot yet.
Even with all my struggles, I'm glad I pantsed my first novel. I was able to get it out on paper without over thinking the process too much, I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot.
I did almost to the same thing with my third novel, the one I actually sold, BREAKING BEAUTIFUL. I started with a situation, had an ending in mind and wrote as fast and furiously as I could to get the first draft out. I revised a few times (okay a lot), queried, found an agent, and she sold the book. YAY! (Okay, not quite as easy and straightforward as all of that, but you get the idea.)
I pansted both stories, but between the time I wrote my first manuscript and the sale of BREAKING BEAUTIFUL, I had taken writing classes, read books and blogs about writing, and I had written another full manuscript. Through all of that, I learned tons about the basics of plot.
BREAKING BEAUTIFUL went through several phases of revision; with my critique group before I queried, before submission with the help of my agent, and then after it sold, with my editor. And yes, I had to kill a lot of my darlings.
When Larry Brooks said he had the formula for writing a story that would be good without rounds after round of revision, I was skeptical, but curious and hopeful enough to take his class. I’m glad I did. In a very clear way, Larry outlined six core competencies of writing, and the tools you need to create a viable story.
Here are his Six Core Competencies of Story Telling:
4. Story Structure
5. Scene execution
In addition to the six core competencies, Larry talked about the tools that drive a story forward:
1. Dramatic Tension
3. Vicarious Empathy
4. Inherent Interest
When I compared what he was teaching us in his class to what I had learned while revising BREAKING BEAUTIFUL, I realized something important. My critique group, and my agent, and my editor, weren’t telling me to cut things because they hated me or they didn’t understand my vision; they were telling me to cut things because they didn’t work or move the story forward. No matter how touching, no matter how incredible the writing was, (oh and some of it was incredible), no matter how much of a "darling" a particular scene was to me, if it didn’t contribute to the story, if it didn't move the plot forward, it had to go.
I took extensive notes in Larry’s class, but since he explains all of this way better than I can, I’ll refer you to his book STORY ENGINEERING and his website Storyfix.com for more information about this process.
I’m offering myself up as a guinea pig to test Larry Brook's core competencies. I will (cringe) outline my current work in progress based on what I learned from his class, his book, and his website. I’m hoping it will mean less revision, less cutting, and yes, less killing off of my “darlings.” (Maybe even before they're written.)
I’ll let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, I'm curious about how you feel about this. Are you a pantser or an outliner? A little of both? What works for you in the creative process?