I have a deep respect for PLOTTERS.
Honestly, I know of writers who have thick notebooks full of diagrams, outlines, research, and the like, who spend weeks or months outlining before they ever set out to telling the story. I find it absolutely inspiring.
But I can't do it.
As soon as the idea enters my mind, I'm fixated on writing it. I have tried, truly, to outline. And once or twice I've needed to work out details for specific scenes or sections of a book. But my overall style is to pants, and I fear there is no cure.
After three published novels and a short story, and one WIP, I'm still learning. But I've picked up a few strategies over the last few years that I believe to be massively important to pantsing a really solid first draft.
And that's the dream isn't it? A solid, structurally sound first draft.
1.) Familiarize yourself with basic story structure.
What I'm talking about is something like this:
Having a basic understanding of story structure will be incredibly helpful in keeping your story on track. The danger of pantsing is that you may find yourself aimlessly wandering from time to time...without your GPS to give you step by step instructions.
With this knowledge embedded in your mind, you'll eventually find yourself instinctively knowing what needs to happen next. You'll sense when the tension needs to increase or another conflict needs to present itself.
A helpful practice is to analyze books and movies, making note (mental or otherwise) of the specific story beats.
EXPOSITION: All the opening stuff. Getting to know key characters, orienting the audience to the bedroom and unique roles each characters takes on. The dynamics and relationships. aka Woody is the leader. The favorite toy.
INCITING INCIDENT: Buzz Lightyear arrives.
You get the idea. Once you've done this a few times, you can't stop seeing it.
2.) Know the ending.
If you don't know where your target is, if you can't see it, you'll miss the mark.
Knowing the ending gives you something to aim toward. You can then tailor every word, every character interaction, every conflict and tension... In other words, every single aspect of your story will gain substance and depth...purpose...when you know what the point of it all is.
Additionally, consider the theme. What do the characters need to learn, and what do you hope readers will take away? If you know this ahead of time, it will weave its way into your story much more naturally, even as you fly by the seat of your pants.
3.) Don't be afraid to hit DELETE.
All writers get stuck.
When pantsing, you may ramble on for a few pages before realizing it wasn't leading anywhere, or you've written your character into an unnecessary situation or one you can't write them out of.
Perhaps the prose have gone dull, and you find yourself yawning at any attempt to read it.
While I know I will never please everyone, I've taken on the habit of deleting anything I write that honestly bores me. I highlight and delete so fast these days, because I don't want to second guess myself. So far, I've never regretted it.
I don't even give myself the crutch of highlighting and pasting in another document in case I change my mind. If my first instinct is that it's no good...to the abyss it goes.
4.) Jot down milestones, or beats, when you first think of them.
Even if that part of the story isn't for another 50,000 words.
This isn't the same as outlining. Lots of pantsers keep notes, and it ultimately comes down to how you best write stories. Like any writer, you don't want to have a brilliant idea disappear simply because you hadn't reached that part of the book yet. Keep a small notepad or keep track in your phone.
If you don't yet know what's coming, that's fine! But the moment inspiration hits, jot it down. Don't lose it. That piece of knowledge will help enrich the rest of your story leading up to it.
My last piece of advice is more...my personal strategy for getting my head into and around the story...
5.) Build a playlist.
ALL of my stories so far were originally inspired by songs. Music plays a huge role in my creative process. I'll hear a song for the first time, and the story will slowly blossom, playing out like a movie trailer in my head.
I'll put that song on repeat for DAYS/WEEKS and let the story grow visually long before I ever put my fingers to a keyboard.
During the writing process, I'll listen to my playlist - especially at bedtime.
Two months ago, I was on a joint family trip, riding in a van through the mountains in Hokkaido. I couldn't write at the time, but the setting around us was so beautiful. I felt inspired. So...I put in my earbuds, turned on my playlist, angled my gaze out the window, and let my imagination wander. I played the same songs over and over, and the story grew. New conflicts emerged. Plot twists. Emotional beats. By the time we reached our hotel, I was itching to get to my laptop.
My advice to you is to find songs that resonate with your story. Spend time listening to them and give the story room to evolve.
I LOVE finding inspiration in the creativity of other kinds of artists.
UNTIL NEXT TIME!
I believe in you,