Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Take Off Your Pants!

The title doesn't refer to clothing, but to a writing method of working without a plan, more commonly known as "pantsing," for writing by the seat of your pants. I tend to write like this myself, but this often means it takes several drafts for me to come up with a workable plot. That said, I've tried outlining before but haven't been very effective with it. Writing projects more quickly and with fewer drafts would allow me to increase my output (which is important for indie authors who want to earn a living) and take care of all the projects I have in mind but don't have the time for. So I thought I'd read Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker. She says in the beginning of this book she was able to write a complete book in three weeks with this method. I don't think I could manage that with a day job and a school-age son, but I'd like not to take months or even years either.

In my previous attempts at outlining, I always started at the beginning of the book and listed the main events of the plot in order. Hawker takes a different approach by first focusing on the emotional journey of the main character. According to her, the point of the story is the main character's personal growth as she learns to overcome a flaw. So, with Hawker's approach, you would first develop the main character, the weakness she must face, and the external goal that will force her to grow. From there, you would develop other characters, the theme, and a couple other aspects of the story. Finally, you would come up with the events of the story, using the Hero's Journey as a template. Another key part of plotting is pacing, and Hawker describes a technique to keep readers hooked.

There are a few things about Hawker's method that I didn't agree with. Some stories and genres don't seem to focus on character growth. For example, the detective in a mystery series, like Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple, doesn't develop much, if at all, over the story. This type of story focuses in ideas, not characters. Also, Hawker states that an antagonist typically wants the same goal as the protagonist, as if they're competing for a prize. I don't think that's always the case. Nonetheless, she's more experienced at outlining than I certainly am. Even though I'm already halfway through Chaos Season, I'm going to try this method to develop the second half of the novel and plan the parts in the first section that need changing. At the same time, I'll also work on outlines for the final two books in the series, Fifth Season and Summon the Seasons. This will be tricky, as a different Avatar is the main character of each book, yet some characters will continue to develop after "their" book is over. Good thing Hawker's method can be used for books with multiple main characters too.

For the writers out there, do you plot or pants? If you plot, what do you think of Hawker's method? Readers, do you feel character growth is always more important than action? Why or why not?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't just outline, I outline to death. It can take longer to do the outline than write the book.
Plan the character growth. That's probably what I do. Although I start at the end and then figure out what events led the character to that point and how he became that person along the way.

Sandra Almazan said...

Sounds like you've found a method that works for you, Alex! That's the important thing.

Maria Zannini said...

I'm a plotter. Each chapter has a mini synopsis, including the goal I want to reach for each character thus far.

It makes the act of writing that much quicker if I know what I want to accomplish along each chapter.

Sandra Almazan said...

Maria, according to Hawker's method, each chapter is like a triangle that's broad at the top but squeezes the character down to the point, which leads into the next chapter. The character starts each chapter with a lot of options that narrow as the story progresses. And I have to agree it's easier to write if I already know what I'm writing about. Coming up with ideas and words at the same time is more difficult.

Pat Dilloway said...

I've done it both ways. Mostly now I just write some notes and then start writing and let things happen.

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