Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Make it Right: Case for an Outline

Microsoft Clip Art
I did not understand the term Panster the first time I heard it. Once it was defined for me, I realized it was me—a writer who writes from the seat of his/her pants.
One of my favorite Pansters is best-selling author of the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon. She starts with a kernel—a story idea, mental flash of imagery, or auditory hallucination of character voices (that I find often strike at the most inconvenient time, like in the shower or on the elliptical)—and writes out from it, whether forward or back, using the characters/setting and conflict to develop the story without any pre-written skeleton on which to hang the prose. Other writers call it allowing the story to "write itself". And some call it planning to fail. Those writers shudder at the thought of writing a story without an outline. To them it's the equivalent of a contractor building a house without blueprints—recipe for disaster. Until today, I disagreed with them.

I did not use an outline for my first novel—(or second or third, but who's counting?)—but today was the first day I questioned my Panster methodology.

My current WIP is 95% done. And I can't seem to figure out how to finish the final 5%. I was beginning to wonder if I shouldn't toss in the towel as a writer and sign up for a business course when I read Tawna Fenske's blog post. Inspired, I grabbed my laptop with the intention of printing off the manuscript and reading it from beginning to end to discover where I went awry, and it hit me.

I had an outline.


I went hunting, and I found it. Written in July 2010. Shortly thereafter, my life went off the rails--injury forced me to stop writing for…too long--and by the time I picked up the threads of this story again last fall, I forgot about the outline. I really wish I hadn't.

Just as my life went off track in 2011, so did my story. Names, goals, motivation, conflict and events…everything was cock-eyed, skewed from my original vision. And that is the problem.

Microsoft Clip Art
Without a blueprint and measuring tape, a carpenter cannot saw correct lengths and accurate angles; his construction will be shoddy no matter how even the cuts. Things just won't fit together properly. A writer is a carpenter. And the right tools are not only helpful, they're critical. Fortunately, I do not need to call Mike Holmes. I have all I need to fix my WIP.

Desire. Persistence. And now my outline.
I can go back, tear out the weak and misaligned construction, and reframe properly using my blueprint. I may end up having to do a complete Reno, but that's okay. All that matters is I make it right.


The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. ~Charles Du Bos


BCG said...

A "light bulb' moment I would have called what you had today.....seeing through the fog.....Hammer on daughter!

Lara Lacombe said...

I used to consider myself a dyed-in-the-wool pantster, but my process has evolved as I've continued writing. I think that's normal--you keep trying until you figure out what works, and that means you're never static.

Glad you found your outline and that it led to this breakthrough!

Deborah said...

Thank you BCG! I will.

And Lara...yes. Evolve or die. Thanks!