Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Outlining versus Pantsing, and... Brainstorming Doesn't Just Happen

If you are one of the wonderful people who read When in Gnome, then you know that Evie, who was adopted, set out on an adventure to find her roots. This adventure really took off when she got her car stuck in the mud and was forced to stay overnight at Rosewood, the plantation home where her mother was born and raised. As irksome as getting stuck may have been, it was necessary in order for events to play out the way they did.

I bring this up because sometimes I feel stuck in a story. I always have an outline, but it's really just a list of major things that I expect to happen in that order in the story. Actual mileage between these major points may vary. That being said, I'm thinking I'm a 50/50 outliner/pantser.

1. One who pantses.
2. A person who flies by the seat of his or her pants. 
3. A term often used in the realm of writing to describe a person who does not rely heavily on outlining.
4. A derogatory term used by writers who sweat blood over outlines to describe those free-spirited ones who seem to manage well without an outline. 

When I first attempted to actually write a story, I wrote a great beginning and then stopped because I had no idea where it was going. I had set the stage. I had a few characters and this great atmosphere, but I wasn't sure what the acts would actually involve. So, my stories tended to fizzle out.

As I matured as a writer and had a better understanding of story structure and plot, an outline became vital, a safety net that let me refocus so that I always knew where I was going. But there's still a whole lotta pantsing going on between those milestones.

I think this pretty much sums up my personality because I'm about 50/50 on the left/right brain dominance. I like structure at work, but I let my hair down at home. I like knowing expectations and parameters while, at the same time, wanting to make the most of freedoms. I'm 50% analytical over-thinker and 50% fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants free spirit.

As I write the rough draft of No Place Like Gnome, it occurs to me that I only had the vaguest notion of what I expected to happen in the story. I had a major idea, and, following quickly on the heels of the release of When in Gnome, I wrote about four chapters. I thought I was just going to jump right back in and pick right up where I left off, but it wasn't that easy.

"Ideas don't just happen unless you're actually thinking about them."

My ideas were undeveloped at that point. As I explained in the last post, I needed to let the ideas ferment a while and grow some subplots, to mix metaphors. Of course, ideas don't just happen unless you're actually thinking about them. Months can go by. Years even.

Which brings me to my point....

I don't really like to think of being stuck as "writer's block". I always have ideas. I just don't always know where to put them. To me, being stuck is like being at a crossroads. You have options, and the point that many call being stuck is simply a place where I find that I have to make decisions. I can turn right, turn left, or go straight ahead. There are times when I decide that the best course of action is, simply, to turn around.

That being said, there are those scenes that I know where something happens, and maybe it's major or maybe it's reactive, and I haven't really decided how it's going to flow. Sometimes, it's best for me to just leave a section of my document with a few notes of what I think will happen here and move to the scenes that I am able to clearly visualize. So, writing doesn't have to be linear.

I find it easiest, until I am finished with the first draft, to have my chapters, or scenes, titled with descriptions, and I have those Summary Descriptions (ex: The Investigation) set at a Header in Styles, so that the description shows up on the navigation pane. If I decide to move things around, I can click and drag that scene without cutting and pasting. Of course, you should always reread to make sure it flows and that you haven't overlooked something that is out of sequence.

I spent most of the past week brainstorming on the book, and I came up with some exciting ideas about the story, and I think it's possible that this book may be even better than the first book. Ideas kind of bubble up from different places, and, in this case, it was a song that gave me a good idea for a twist in the story.

As mentioned near the beginning of this post, everything doesn't always turn out the way that I originally plan. There were some changes that had to be made because, however interesting the result might have been, I just wasn't comfortable with the idea and didn't want readers to suffer with a horrible cliffhanger.

I think what I came up with will be just as interesting, if not more so. I would like to think that, in most cases, my episodes of being stuck, were actually just indicators that I needed to proceed in a different direction from what I had previously thought. It's not a matter of just getting out of the mud and plunging ahead, but it may actually be a way for my subconscious to flag me down and prompt me to reconsider my chosen path.

Until next time.


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