Plotting for pantsers … The plotters out there are laughing, the pantsers are gasping in horror.
Trust me … it can be done!
I’m a pantser with suspenders. No matter how many times I try to plot before starting a project, I freeze, can’t do it! My writing process is to tighten the suspenders and jump in feet first.
I’m cursed blessed with a critique partner whose first drafts are pretty darn brilliant. She’s a pantser but a pantser-with-a-plan.
I, on the other hand, have a vague “somewhere in that direction” idea and don’t let the lack of breadcrumbs on my path deter me. So by the time I squeal “ta da” (how many of you still actually type “the end” at the end?), I have a happy helping of a holy-wow-what-was-I-thinking first draft.
Why? Because I don’t have those helpful breadcrumbs to guide me. I start writing, then part way in, realize something needs to change and off I march. I don’t go back and fix anything in the first draft.
This, my writing friends, is when the suspenders come off and I veer down the plotting path. Here’s how:
1) Read the first draft.
Start with a beta read. I do all beta reads on my iPad—I’ll save the manuscript as a pdf and read in iBooks, that way I can see the page numbers and it looks and feels like a “real book.” I’m also not tempted to edit as I read.
Take notes. I always have a notepad handy when I’m doing a beta read and jot down notes. For example, on page 32 I zoned out and start wondering if I’m back to full lives in Free Fall? On page 179 the dialogue turned cheesy. On page 225, I had a sudden “whhhuuuutttt?” moment. Jot down if a certain phrase or action starts becoming obvious. Did you just stumble over a detour in the plot?
2) Read it again, and this time, pull it apart.
For the second—dissecting—read, I prefer hard copy. It provides yet another perspective and, for me at least, a more hands-on one. For this read I keep a stack of index cards and a notepad next to me.
Notepad: I write the name of each character on individual pages, the names of key locations in the story, a page for “timeline,” and any other key things that I need to keep organized. As I’m reading, I jot down key words/phrases for each. This becomes very helpful as I get deeper into the Harry Potter world staircase of my first draft—things shift; the notepad helps me stay true to the characters, locations, and timing.
Index cards: I use different colors for different plot threads. As I’m reading, I’ll pull the appropriate color card and jot down scene notes. For example: at the top of each card, I’ll write the plot thread, the chapter and the scene within the chapter, who’s in the scene, when does it take place, where is it happening, what’s happening.
During this second read is when I also refer back to any feedback I’ve received—critiques, contest feedback, even comments on previous manuscripts that may translate to the current work.
3) It’s puzzle time.
I take my fancy colored index cards and lay them out in chapter and scene order. This gives me a quick visual of what my story looks like. Armed with the notes I’ve taken and any feedback from other readers, I can see what’s missing, what scenes are redundant, which ones do nothing to move the story forward, and which ones are in the wrong spot.
Now I arrange the cards as necessary, mark ‘delete’ on some, mark ‘moved’ on others, and add new ones (note: use a different color pen and/or write “new” or whatever else works for you on these addition cards so you can easily tell what will be fresh copy versus editing existing).
At the end of the process I’ve—are you ready? Seatbelts buckled?—plotted. Seriously! Me … plotting. So there you have it—I may pants my way through a first draft but I’m a plotter with revisions.
What’s your process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Or are you equal opportunity depending on the draft?
After years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.