The Creative Flexibility of…Plotting & Outlining?

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Please welcome back our special guest, Josh Vogt! Writer. Freelancer. Unashamed geek. Josh splits his time between dreaming up new worlds and forms of magic and providing marketing/sales copy for clients. And best of all, author of Enter the Janitor!

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Enter the Janitor - CoverWhen I’m doing panels or workshops for writers, I always like to ask how many in the room are plotters or pantsers. The response often varies from a bunch of raised hands and eager nods to totally blank stares. Plotters, of course, being those who like outlines and character sheets and maybe even making up a whole new language complete with alien grammar (no, I haven’t…yet). And pantsers refusing to write while wearing any pants, of course.

Ahem.

I quickly learned in my early years as an aspiring writer that I was bent to be a hardcore plotter and outliner. If I tried to wing a story from the first blank page, I’d soon be tearing my hair out and inventing curse words that’d make an orc blush. Now, I certainly know that every writer has to find their own path…their own tools and techniques that make the process work for them. But for me, I found that if I spend a few weeks or a couple months pinning down a plot from A to Z, getting my main cast detailed, and worldbuilding to a certain level, I can then sit down and have a first draft pretty darn quickly.

When I’ve told some other writers this, a few commented that this seemed too restrictive. That their joy in writing came from discovering things as they went and they’d feel stressed out by having to stick to a story outline.

Here’s the thing: I still discover a lot along the way. For instance, I may have a scene plotted with the a single line, like “Person A gets snippy with Person B and all hell breaks loose, which leads to Person C getting stabbed.”

I still don’t know who all three of those people might be yet, where they’re arguing, how they got there, or what they’re fighting about. However, by setting down some bold strokes, I give myself enough of a focus that I can better lead up to that scene in prior chapters—and maybe even get in some foreshadowing!

So, yes, the outline is still there. The plot has been paved. But I haven’t taken this particular journey yet in all its glorious (or gory) detail. There’s still plenty of the joy of discovery for me. Plenty of flex in how it all plays out, but also the knowledge that when I reach that next blank page, I don’t have to say, “I’ve absolutely no clue what comes next.”

Which has been quite helpful for my hair as well.

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4 comments to The Creative Flexibility of…Plotting & Outlining?

  • chemistken

    I considered myself a heavy plotter by the time I finished (mostly) writing the fan fiction that got me started in writing fiction in the first place. But after I started writing my own stories, I found that my best ideas came while I was actually putting the words down on paper. So I’d outline for a while, then start writing, then I’d have to go back and redo the outline with all the new stuff I’d come up with while pantsing, then pants some more, and then return to redo the outline… You get the idea. So I guess I get the best of both worlds.

  • JRVogt

    I think that’s an excellent way to approach it. Gives you structure but also room to breathe and adapt as things in the story shift.

  • Thanks, Josh, this is a great approach. I’m currently looking at revising my methods (partly because, after a tough year personally, where the worst has finally gone away, I find myself in slight shock, floundering for purchase in this new reality where “Wow, I don’t have to worry about that stuff anymore”). My last (and likely final) NaNo wasn’t much more than a two-week brainstorming session with myself, which in November was all I was capable of. I think my next step is to take that and put it into an outline, rather than the general one in my head. I like the style you’ve suggested!

  • JRVogt

    Thanks, Laura! I hope you find the right path for your story to take.