A Pantser Visits the Evil Land of Plot (ters)

I will outline. Even if it’s in the form of thought bubbles across the page, interconnecting with one another along the way until I manage to figure out all the points between A and Z. What I will keep in mind is that I don’t need to stick to the road map I draw…but it will be something I can reference to help me get there. I can’t stick to an outline, but at least having these notions in front of me, I might be able to crawl along and figure things out. I swear, the main idea of this novel was to take place in a setting that I have JUST arrived at…after 35,000 words I managed to get the 3 characters to the main setting of the novel. That, my friends, is a problem. That’s a key sign that pantsing, in this particular instance, is NOT working for me. 

I’m willing to give this outlining thing another try. I’m hopelessly hopeless at following them, but I need something! Putting this in terms of a play—something that works extremely well for my pantsing techniques—my characters would still be behind the screen arguing about whose turn it is to take the stage. They would be back there bitching and moaning and the seats would be filled. But the stage would be in darkness and the audience would be able to hear every single word my characters say. That is not the way to do things. That is more than horrible, it’s unacceptable. The audience should NEVER hear the rumbling that gets the characters to the stage. The story should start right away, and never stop moving forward. I have so miserably failed this time that I’m considering getting rid of the pants altogether. 

Time to sit down and take a trip through the concept I originally grasped when I sat down to write my Muskoka Novel Marathon novel. This time, though, there will be no horn honking to tell me when to start. There will be no distractions and there will be no pressure. It’ll be just me, a piece of paper, and my thoughts. Here’s hoping this outline thing finally pays off!

What about you. Pantser? Outliner (Plotter)? Or a perfect mix of both?

Categorized as On Writing

By Kevin Craig

Author, Poet, Playwright. Author of The Camino Club, Billions of Beautiful Hearts, and Book of Dreams, all from Duet Books, the LGBTQ Young Adult imprint of Chicago Review Press. Other books: Pride Must Be A Place, Half Dead & Fully Broken, Burn Baby Burn Baby, The Reasons, Sebastian's Poet, and Summer on Fire.


  1. Great post. I am an outliner when it comes to writing full length novels, however, when I write my horror flash fiction which I do for Friday Flash Fiction through Vamplit Publishing, I write off the cuff. With only having 1,000 or less words to write a story I always start in the middle of the story and wrap it up from there.

    If I didn’t outline my novels I would never be able to finish them which they are generally over 100,000 words. I don’t stick to the outline,but it is a road map so I don’t flounder around inside the story.

    Loved your analogy of the stage play, great visual!

  2. Thanks for the comment! I can’t seem to break the 60K ceiling with my novels. Can’t imagine writing 100K! Whoa! Maybe that’s something else I can accomplish if I can ever train myself to work with an outline. Thanks!

  3. I keep a vague list of bulleted points, though I rarely end up following it. I’m more of a post-it note kind of guy; when I get a thought for a W.I.P., I jot it down somewhere and make sense of it later. I’m not organized whatsoever when it comes to writing.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Paul! I’m never organized…it’s a miracle I get anything done. I do jot stuff down sometimes, too. I always find receipts and movie tickets, etc…with little one liners and thoughts on them. A lot of the time I will look at these and think, ‘ooh…that sounds good, but what was I going to do with it? What did I write it down for?’ (-:

  5. I am a plotter; a planner of interactions, twists, and clues. I often veer off path, but the plan keeps me focussed on the bits of the story I must remember to include, regardless of where my detours take me. Once plotted, I let it sit. I tried not potting as deeply as usual at the Muskoka Novel Marathon with poor results. My story needs to simmer longer before the true flavour emerges. Only then am I comfortable taking alternate paths, confident that I understand my characters well enough to know which paths are worth following and which ones are mere diversions.

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