I can’t say that I’m a pure “pants-er” — plotting as I go along “by the seat of my pants” — but I’m not a scrupulous outliner either. It’s not for lack of trying. I admire systematic authors with notes on bulletin boards, schematics, detailed timelines and colorful diagrams. I just can’t wrap my head around all those incredibly useful tools. In fact, each time I’ve tried one I discover that I’m spending more time working on the outline than I am on writing.
Still, I’m not spontaneously spinning out a complex mystery story with misleading red herrings and subtle clues to the truth. I have to do something to keep me from writing off the rails and off on crazy detours. My system, for lack of a better word, involves leaving myself notes about what has to happen later in the story, and, whenever possible, reminding myself where I’ve planted something related earlier in the manuscript.
This is not scientific or particularly organized and I know it. Especially when some of those notes or bits of dialog are handwritten in one notebook or another that never seems to migrate to my desk at the right time.
How do I manage to get it down on paper (drum roll), it’s magic! No, not magic, hard work and, most of all, a deep belief in multiple drafts! That’s when the decisions to move this earlier in the story or to take this out entirely or to trim or cut or shave the text, start rolling. Could I do that kind of organization earlier in the process? Maybe, but so far… nope!
Outlines, schematics, sketches, timelines, diagrams — oh my. If you use them, please share your experiences. I’d love to learn from a more systematic storyteller.