These blog post titles are SO boring, aren’t they?
Oh well, I’ve always been function over fashion anyway.
For a few weeks, I want to dive into how to generate or shape basic ideas into stories in a way that doesn’t involve outlines or planning or any sort of additional forethought. Just sitting down and writing.
This week, we’re going to focus on Plot. Just for a little refresher, Plot is the forward movement of the story. It’s the conflict. It’s the tension. It’s the sequence of actions that pulls the story from the beginning to its ending.
So now, imagine, you’re sitting somewhere doing something and a tiny little plot niggles into your mind. But, you don’t actually have characters yet. Or a setting. You don’t know if it will be high fantasy or alternate history or the hidden magical world next to average humankind as we know them. But, the plot sounds awesome and you know it’s not just going to go away.
You do what pantsers do best!
You just start writing!
Maybe that seems too simple. Too writer lowbrow. After all, don’t the best writers all recommend outlines? Or at least some beginning character development?
While that may be beneficial in the EDITING stage, it’s actually totally unnecessary for a first draft. It’s okay to just start writing.
You might think it’s more complicated than that, but you’re also scared of losing the plot and outlines give you hives (like me).
Ditch the outline and write what you have. Even if all you have is a general idea of part of the story. Write it out. Then move forward. Or move backward. Or write what you have, then go back to the beginning and try to work your way to what you have written down.
Pantsing gives BEAUTIFUL freedom when it comes to writing because when you’re first sitting down to write, all you’re doing is getting the story out. It doesn’t have to be beautiful. It doesn’t even have to make sense. It just needs to be on the paper.
Maybe you still have questions.
“What if my idea is just the climax of the book?”
Totally fine. Write THAT part and then head to the end of the book. Or, you could really challenge yourself and try to start at the beginning and see how you might reach that climax (though, fair warning, it’s totally possible that your characters will do anything and everything in their power to AVOID getting you to that spot, so this tactic is only for the really adventurous ones).
“What if it’s really predictable?”
Then you get to experiment with some amazing plot turns. Because you’re not following an outline, you can easily make your characters choose the WRONG thing (as they should anyway). Or you can throw in a crazy wrench by adding in a weird character. Or, you can play with your characters to make THEM the unpredictable ones. Maybe you have dwarves who sail ships and elves who live underground or you make up your own fantasy race who NEVER says what they mean, only the opposite.
“What if I write myself into a corner?”
Not a problem. This is the time can you can toss in whatever mechanism you need to get your story moving again. It’s probably the only time a Deus Ex Machina is acceptable. Once you have your completed first draft, you’ll be able to go back through and cut out the corner and write something new if you need to, or maybe you WON’T need to do that because of the direction the story took. The first draft is just you getting to know the story. It’s going to be rough. It’s going to be a bit embarrassing to look at. It’s going to have plot holes. That’s totally fine.
The really important thing to remember, and I’m probably going to say this A MILLION TIMES, is that the hard work is on the other end of writing a first draft. While some great plotters write one draft and edit it once before they submit it, great pantsing isn’t going to be like that. You’re going to need to edit it MANY times. But, we’ll get there. For now, we’re just talking about getting a draft out when all you have is a tiny plot line.
Allow the plotline to unfold and don’t stress about explaining everything. It’s okay if you don’t know how your magic system works yet. You can figure that out later. It’s okay if you don’t even know your MC’s name yet. The important thing is to get something on the page because you can always edit a terrible manuscript. You can’t edit a blank page.
For the story I submitted to Heart of a Child, I did this. I had a vague idea of a plot line, but I didn’t have a clue about characters or anything else. All that came through as I wrote and during the critique workshop, where this story was put through the ringer. I had to develop the setting, the blocking of the story, the characters, everything after I’d gotten the main storyline down. It remains one of my favorite stories.
Have you ever pantsed something based on plot?
If not, give it a try: A fairy finds the missing key to the kingdom’s stores of gold, but it’s too big to be carried and nobody believes in fairies anymore.