Which is probably why it took me three years to finish my first manuscript, and five years of rewriting and editing to realize it wasn't really working. It's still a story I'd love to work with because I adore the characters and setting, but eight years is just problematic.
Part of the reason I've avoided trying to plan my stories is a fear of getting tied down, of losing the spark of excitement that comes with unearthing a plot or a new character. I like to be spontaneous with my writing, and I've been afraid that outlines and plans would box me in and make things far too rigid.
But I know I can't spend years and years writing first drafts. So, for my new project, I tried plotting.
I didn't start with creating a detailed outline. I didn't even start by plotting down the character arc I want my protagonist to follow. I knew such fixed structure would be overwhelming for me.
I tried something different, which I'd like to share with other pantsers considering plotting (or even plotters looking for something different):
- Create a character and a vague idea. For example: I want my character to be working with a variety of trickster gods to accomplish...something.
- Take a piece of paper and write down as many potential plot points or story events that you can think of. It doesn't matter if they don't go together or if they seem random or unworkable. Just write down everything that comes to mind--what can you possibly do to this character within this big, general idea? Make them as specific or vague as you'd like. I wound up with some very specific ideas, down to "so-and-so provides protagonist with emotional support," but also some bigger ones, like "Ellie meets Piccolo."
- Write all of those ideas on sticky notes or separate slips of paper. Lay them all out in front of you, on a board or a desk or the floor, and look them over. What do you have? Are there any plot points you think go well together? Any that feel like they should be in the same scene?
- Rearrange and play with the stickies, add more if you need to, and see what you can come up with. Remember that you don't need to use every single idea you wrote down. It's probably best if you don't.
- Keep reorganizing and rearranging and playing until you find something you like. I typed that organization up so I could keep it with all the other digital notes I have, but feel free to just pin it up somewhere, or write it by hand. Use that as your initial outline, just for some sort of direction.
- Remember that this outline isn't set in stone. It can change and breathe and move as you write. That's perfectly all right. It's just a beginning.
So far, I'm actually really enjoying knowing, more or less, where this story is going. It's kind of nice to have an idea of plot and character arc and various scenes I want to hit. It lets me focus more on developing those scenes and characters instead of worrying about when the plot's going to veer off from where I thought it was going again.
And that's my very long-winded ramble about why sometimes we need to switch up how we work, change our process, and try something new.