Novel Planning for Pantsers

pant⋅ser [pant-ser]

1. One who writes a novel by the seat of their pants, without an outline, character sheets, or any semblance of pre-planning.
2. Crazy person.

See also:  intelligent, witty, and downright sexy.

I have a confession to make. I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer. A pantser. It’s a fact I wear proudly on my sleeve. Well, not really. To tell you the truth, I don’t wear anything on my sleeves. Not even my heart, because that could get messy. And bloody.

Anyhow, I’m proud of my pantserness (pantserhood?). I’ve succeeded in winning NaNoWriMo two years in a row, writing that way. 50,000 words in a month, with a full-time job and a 1 year old in the house isn’t too shabby. I have to be honest with you, though. Neither one of those 50,000 word stories are finished. I really think they lack a bit of direction and dare I say planning. *gasp*

Now, I know I’m never going to write a detailed outline before writing a novel. Not gonna happen. That would take the fun out of writing, and it just isn’t in my nature. Heck, some people do outlines before they write code. I don’t do that either.

That doesn’t mean I can’t do some planning. You can too. Here are some planning resources I have found that I think even a pantser can do without feeling too constrained.

First up is from a writer friend of mine who is also a teacher.She has a whole section on her site dedicated to creative writing. My favorite resource she has there is called the Chapter Concept Statement Grid. It’s a simple two column chart with one heading titled “chapter name” and the next titled “concept statement”. This one gets you to write a simple sentence about each of your chapters, which should help to provide a bit of information about where the story begins, where it goes, and how it ends. Also, no pesky Roman Numerals.

The next resource is from the NaNoWriMo website. They have a collection of freely downloadable workbooks titled Young Novelist Workbooks. They are meant for use in school and such, but that doesn’t mean us old folks can’t use them too. I particularly like the one called  The High School Student Noveling Workbook. There is some really cool planning worksheets in there. If I wasn’t so cheap and felt like replacing my printer cartridges, I would totally print the entire 80 pages of The High School Student Noveling Workbook.

Next up is something called the Phase Outline. As the name implies, the Phase Outline works like this:  “Phases are written out as key phrases that will bring the next set of lines — the next action — into focus”. It’s a pretty good idea, but not really for me. At least not at this time.

A list of questions. There are a bunch of things I’m not sure about the novel I’m planning. These are things I’d like to know before I start too far into the story. Well, I figure it doesn’t hurt to write these questions down and work on them away from the computer. Yes, pantsers, this counts as planning.

Finally there is the idea of writing a synopsis. You know, those things are good to write before you write a novel too. Actually, this is the method I’m using to plan for this year’s NaNoWriMo is kind of a modified synopsis. Basically, I’m writing my store out, a paragraph per chapter, in regular speak,  describing your story like a kid would describe a dream or television show. For example:

“The main character went to the store, and then he talked to the bad guy. And then the ghost of Ronald Reagan showed up and they all ate biggie-sized meals at Arby’s.”

That’s really not my story, or maybe it is. Anyhow, here’s where you break the writing rules. You tell. You write in passive voice. You make terrible grammar mistakes. Doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you are thinking about your story and trying to find its’ shape. Remember, the more planning you do now, the less you have to do “in the moment” in November, and the more time you have to write.

So pantsers, what do you think? Any of these ideas sound do-able? Or, do I lose my special pantser merit badge sleeve patch?

Heidi has a pretty cool method for planning a novel in stages.