Another shot in the never-ending panster v plotter war

Henry Miller’s manuscript plan for Tropic of Capricorn

Henry Miller’s manuscript plan for Tropic of Capricorn

I just completed one of the weirder pieces of fiction I’ve ever written. It was supposed to be a paranormal romance. I don’t know what it actually is, there’s very little romance and a lot of running around, murder, shape-changing, hyenas, gun fights, and betrayals. Also, a couple of sexy men and a clever leading lady. Also, a chihuahua.

When I started, I had a fairly simple plot. Girl in danger, guy one comes along says he’s there to save her, guy two comes along, says he’s there to save her. In the end, the girl choses one and they ride off into the sunset.

I even outlined it.

Here’s the thing: I’m a pantser.

For those unaware of the war raging just under the surface of our society, there are writers who outline everything they write. They are called “Plotters.” Then there are writers who prefer to discover the characters and the stories as they write. They fly by the seat of their pants. Therefore, “Pantsers.”

I’ve confirmed over and over to myself that pansting is just what works for me. It’s as if my muse takes one look at an outline and goes off to the corner to pout. Even Stephen King says he’s mostly a pantser, giving me a needed boost – if it’s good enough for STEPHEN F’in KING, it’s good enough for me!

Still, there’s a voice in the back of my head that insists that real writers outline, so I keep trying it.

In this weird little pseudoromance, I put together a very basic outline. It was little more than a list of scenes.

But somewhere in the middle, I realized I had a serious lack of female characters (no women other than my main at all), so I gender-flipped a minor character. She stepped into the story, looked around, grabbed my outline, and ripped it to shreds. Suddenly, she betrayed the guy she was working with, collaborated with the enemy, and ended up in a life or death struggle with my main character. She didn’t just derail my outline, she attached a hot air balloon to the plot-train’s engine and took it on a cross country ride at right angles to my original plan.

Now, a true plotter would have grabbed that train, cut the ropes on the balloon, and put the story firmly back on track.

Me? I cried out, “WHEEEEEEE!!!!” and rode that baby where it wanted to go.

I ended up with a story that is weird and crazy and frenetic, and I definitely need to rewrite the end. But it is so much better than what I had planned.

Am I giving up on outlining? No, I’ll keep trying it, even though I doubt my outlines will ever be more than a quick sketch of scenes.

But in the meantime, I think I’d best go put on some chaps. I see a wild plot I’m gonna take for a ride. Yee haw!

The above image of Miller’s outline and several more can be found at: Famous Author’s Handwritten Outlines for Great Works of Literature


5 thoughts on “Another shot in the never-ending panster v plotter war

  1. I promised myself I’d outline for book two but I started to write the first scene and the following scene started unfolded after only two pages. I think I will be a pantser for a long time. I let my characters tell me where they want to go and therefore they are so much more agreeable to work with 🙂

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