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.

Wroductive Peekend

This is going to be a bit of a quick email because I’m going to attempt to do some planning for the upcoming NaNoWriMo. Blogging does nothing to help me in that goal. However, tune in Monday night or Tuesday, I hope, for a post titled Novel Planning for Pantsers.

I had a pretty productive weekend, as far as weekends of a father of two little ones is concerned. Here’s some of the highlights:

  1. Scored a goal in my hockey game Saturday morning, wearing the new skates (they were sharpened this time and much better. We also won the game, so that is nice.
  2. Had my parents over Saturday and got a MUCH needed haircut. I feel five pounds lighter.
  3. Fixed the leaky faucet in the bathroom sink finally! No more drip, drip, drip. You are welcome, Earth.
  4. Installed a dimmer switch in the daughter’s room. This should make it easier to read her to sleep at night. The nightlight doesn’t give off quite enough light and the overhead light gives off too much. Also, it was a super easy thing to do, installing the dimmer switch.
  5. Baby and toddler wrangling, mixed with showing my fangs only a few times.

All in all, a good weekend. Now on to the planning.

I’m A Nerd

Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time would be shocked, I’m sure, to learn that I’m a nerd. It’s true.

Well, maybe you are not shocked at all. To that I stick my tongue out at you. No I don’t, because that would be mean and my Mom told me to never stick my tongue out at anybody. Still, I thought you were my friends. *sniff*

Well, I’ve always known I was a nerd, from my love of comic books, and Star Wars (before it was cool again), and science fiction, and learning, and even my *ahem* stink in the band. Anyhow, going through one of my old sketch books a few months ago reinforced just how much of a nerd I’ve always been (don’t let my sporty side fool you).

My notebook was filled with some geeky things, such as sketches of Batman and Robin, Spawn, and Snoopy. Going through that notebook also jogged a memory of a game I used to play with myself.

First of all, let me remind you these were the days before the Internet. We didn’t have entertainment at our fingertips. Got it? Good.

Anyhow, I used to play this game where I would take a die (6-sided, not the 12-sided nerdy kind) and roll it. On a piece of paper I had a column for each number, one through six, and I would keep a tally of each time the number was rolled. I would actually cheer for certain numbers to win. I guess 3 was my favorite number back then because I definitely wanted it to win. I even remember cooking the books in 3’s favor.

Pretty bad, huh? Anybody else want to share any geeky stories about themselves? I bet you can’t beat mine. 🙂

Busy Writing – Kinda

Well, I’ve completed a number of writing projects lately, though none have moved me any closer to the ultimate goal of finishing a novel. Still, at least I’m writing.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • Finished and submitted my story for Karen Lee Field’s writing contest. You still have until the end of the month to win an Amazon gift card, so don’t forget to enter. I really want to post that here, but I’ll wait for her to post it to her site on November 1.
  • Wrote a story in defense of Jar Jar Binks for a writing contest held by sci-fi author John Scalzi. Here is a link to the contest, and you can do a search in your web browser for “strugglingwriter” to find my entry.
  • I entered writing agent Nathan Bransford’s first paragraph contest, posting the opening paragraph from the novel I’m currently “working on”. You may have a bit of difficulty finding my entry there, but I can tell you mine is entry number 1958 or so, posted at October 14, 2009 1:21 PM, and is under the name Paul.
  • Began a 35,000 word tribute to the greatness of Captain Lou Albano (RIP) and his marvelous rubber bands. Well, not really, but I’m still gonna miss the guy. My only question I have, though, is what exactly was he a captain of, other than Industry?
  • So, I have been busy, but not overly productive. That my friends, is why I call myself Struggling Writer.

Off the Sugar Water

If any of you have stock in the Pepsi Corporation, now would probably be a good time to sell. I’m slowly weaning myself off pop (yes I said pop and not soda, or soda pop, or “coke”), and my drink of choice is Pepsi or Mountain Dew.

I’m not on a health kick or anything like that. I’m just sick of putting stuff like that high-fructose corn syrup in my body. I’m mean there really is no nutritional value to pop whatsoever. Plus, I feel funny drinking Pepsi in front of my daughter, while she drinks milk or juice. It hasn’t been a problem thus far, but I imagine it will be. Also, I’m not quitting coffee. Still riding the caffeine train in the morning.

I imagine I’m going to save some money too. I drink two or three cans of pop at work every afternoon, at $.50 a piece. That’s a buck-fifty a day and roughly $7.50 a week. Water is free.

That’s right, I’m switching straight to water. Not the bottle stuff either. Straight from the tap, the old school way. I’m just that hard-core.

So far it has been pretty easy. No shakes or convulsions or headaches. Let’s cross our fingers anyhow, just in case.

Thousand Word Post


Despite the fact that I took a vacation day from work today, I can’t seem to muster the energy for a proper post, so you are stuck with a photograph. Sorry.

The above picture is me and the “baby”. He’s become big all of a sudden and no longer stationary. He’s also brave, which isn’t necessarily a desirable feature in a seven month old just learning to stand and attempting to walk.

About the face I’m making in the picture. I was told to smile. I have trouble doing a natural smile in pictures and showing my teeth. It ends up like in that picture. I usually just do the smirk smile and everybody just asks me why I didn’t smile. Well, the evidence is right there. Yes, I’ve given this way too much thought.

Anyhow, happy Monday everybody. I hear we’re all getting a Tuesday tomorrow. Let’s hope.

Over the River and Through the Woods

Today we drove the hour-and-a-half drive to my grandfather’s house. The occasion was to celebrate my Grandfather’s 92nd birthday and my sister’s 29th. It was a great journey and a great celebration.

I live in Pennsylvania (aka Penn’s Woods) and much of our trip to my grandfather’s house is through tree-lined back roads and mountains. And it is autumn. We were just blown away by the colors of the trees. It’s the type of foliage people drive hundreds of miles to see and we live in it. I am very blessed.

Once we got there we ate a large lunch and then they opened presents, the Steelers game in the background like old times. My wife made my grandfather a really cool photo book on Snapfish and we gave it to him as our gift. My grandfather is old school and hates receiving presents, but we could tell he really liked this one. He read it three times after he opened it.

This evening I had a hockey game, my first one with my new skates. This is where the evening takes a turn for the worse. In my cheap, bone-headiness, I failed to sharpen my skates before the game because they “felt OK”. Well, the moment my skates hit the ice I knew this was a bad idea.

Immediately, I felt like Bambi, the first time he gets on the ice, and I would probably have been better off with hooves rather than skates. The had no edge to them whatsoever. Simply terrible. I couldn’t stop or push off to get going. Not one of my better games.

So..I left my skates at the rink after the game to be sharpened. I hope my next experience with them will be better. Can’t be worse, I suppose.

Sometimes It’s Nice to Laugh

Sometimes it’s cool to work in a place with a little history, as you can see in the above video. We even had to leave our office for an hour or so, just in case the bell fell.

Unrelated, did anyone catch The Office last night? I thought it was hilarious as usual. The best part, for me, was watching it with my wife. We really don’t get much time together, so it was nice to share a laugh and a moment.We’re normally too busy chasing around a crawling 7 month old and a 3 1/2 year old.

The second best part of the episode was Kevin with the tissue boxes for shoes. That was awesome.

Preview of Charles Vess’ Book

Charles Vess and Dark Horse Comics have a full preview of Charles’ upcoming book of his art up on the web. You really should check it out, it is beautiful work.

You may be familiar with Mr. Vess’ work and not even know it. If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman, you most likely have seen art by Charles Vess. He did the artwork for Stardust, Sandman, and the Books of Magic, all Gaiman projects.

If you are interested in illustrations of myths and fairy tales, you will like his work.

Seriously, go over there and check it out. All 200 pages are there, even the foreward by Susanna Clarke.