I’ve Converted! Outlining vs. Pantsing in Fiction Writing

As some of you know I’ve been working on a new book. I am very excited about this project because I think it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever written. I’ll give you a little teaser later in the post. For now I’d like to share something else.

I have always considered myself a pantser, as I’ve said many times. I was recently approached by author/writing coach Joel D. Canfield who invented an outlining program for pantsers called Outline Your Story in 12 Sentences. Sounds to good to be true, right? Being the type of person that I am, always eager to help another writer, I allowed him to use me as his guinea pig. writing is hard

This tool will make sure you hit the 12 critical waypoints in your novel. Prepare these 12 points in advance and you can pants your way from one to the next spontaneous as the weather but always head in the right direction.  Stating each of these in a single sentence– a long, rambling sentence written only for your eyes– will give you a clear easy-to-follow path through your novel.

I cannot give you the entire process because he’s selling this technique, but I can say that he walks you through the crucial elements that make up every successful book. For example: Hook, Setup, First Plot Point, First Pinch Point, etc.

Not enough? Okay, I’ll give you a little taste.

The first part of your novel is the Setup. It has 5 missions. The first is setting a killer Hook, giving the reader something so compelling they don’t even consider not reading your book. It’s vital to do this within the first 50 pages. As a general rule, the earlier the better.

It doesn’t have to be the first sentence. Contrary to popular belief, the first sentence won’t make your novel, it will only break it if it’s totally wrong. As long as it’s not broken, your readers will give your novel a few pages to capture them. But if they spend an hour reading and still wonder when your story is going to start, you’re in trouble.

flipping pages

He’s looking for your hook.

The Hook doesn’t have to be the inciting incident, that is, the event which, known to the protagonist or not, recognized by the reader or not, precipitates the quest.

The Hook should not be the First Plot Point. The Hook must be much earlier. The First Plot Point comes at the end of the Setup, while the Hook is the reason for the reader to even bother reading the Setup.

Once you get your hook outlined you move to the next waypoints of the Setup. It must accomplish these things:

  • Introduce a hero in whom the reader recognizes themselves. They need to empathize. The reader needs to get a sense of what the hero’s inner demons are. His backstory, the world views and attitudes and prejudices and fears that defined him and hold him back. What are his untapped strengths, his secrets?
  • Establishing stakes. The more the hero and others have at stake as they pursue their new goal, the more tension the story will have. Life and death are not always the greatest stakes.
  • Foreshadow events to come. (Joel goes into further detail here.)
  • Prepare for launch. (Same here. Unfortunately I can’t share it with you. It wouldn’t be right for me to show too much.)

When I first received the program I thought to myself, Oh, brother. There are reasons I don’t outline. My brain just doesn’t work that way. 

i can't

To my surprise I could not have been more wrong. When I allowed myself to daydream about how I wanted my story to go, what I wanted to accomplish, and ignored my inner critic who told me I couldn’t work this way, I was able to outline my entire novel in two or three days. And not just a bare-bones outline, either. This program forced me to think of tiny details, things I wouldn’t have thought about until I got to a certain point. It also showed me where things would work and where they wouldn’t. Where to plant clues and use red herrings, both of which wouldn’t be available to me so soon in the story, because sometimes I don’t even know who the killer is until around the halfway point. By training myself to think ahead I saved myself a ton of time.

Since I used to just pants my way through a story I would then have to go back and plant my clues, red herrings, fill in plot holes, etc. But by using this system I could do it as I went along. What a great feeling. I also never found myself having to stop writing and think, because I knew exactly where I was going.

thinking while writing

Unlike this guy.

I tend to write pretty fast anyway, but with having a mini-outline I flew through the story. The words came faster because I had direction.

I still wouldn’t call myself an outliner, per se, because I don’t pre-write scenes. But I will say I’ve changed my writing process for the better. I highly recommend this program. Even if you are an outliner by nature you still will find this helpful because Joel explains each point in detail in a way that changes how you normally would think of them. A more precise way, a better way. Here’s the best part: When you buy the program it comes with support. Once you work the steps you send them back to Joel and he sends comments on what you’ve written. You can choose to take his advice or not. But if you do, you’d then rewrite what isn’t working and resend it him. He’d then give you more feedback and so on. He’s also thinking of adding permanent support throughout the entire writing process of the outlined book. How generous is that? To buy this program go here, or click on the title link at the beginning of this post.

changed me

Okay, as promised here’s the teaser line for my newest novel, MARRED…

A writer’s past tragedy returns to haunt her present and threatens to destroy her future. 

When I have a proper pitch I’ll post it. For now just know it’s a psychological mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat… hopefully.

cat flipping

One last thing before I let you go. I’ve recently created an author’s page on Facebook. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble could you please “like” the page (it’s on the sidebar). To show my gratitude leave me a link in the comments section and I’ll gladly return the favor, if I haven’t already.

Do you use outlines in your writing? If so, do you write long, involved outlines with scenes or mini ones to help you keep plugging along?

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13 thoughts on “I’ve Converted! Outlining vs. Pantsing in Fiction Writing

  1. I scribble rubbish for the first 10,000 words. As I’ve written mostly short stories I normally stop here and re-write the lot. From here I outline what I have and what I think is missing. It’s a process of quick notes and mental post its. I’m not very good at articulating my thoughts unless it’s in fiction format.
    And your Facebook page is liked too (o:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes pouring it all out while it’s fresh is the best method. I’ve done that, banged out 40,000 words as fast as I can type, and then gone back to find the 12 sentences, to retrofit the structure.

      Messier than building the skeleton first, but sometimes you have to get the apples into the pie before they go bad.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m totally a planner, Sue, and – contrary to myth – it can actually enhance one’s creativity. If we know we have 1500 words to get Joe from the bar to a police cell, by way of a brawl with a biker, that’s a great spur to the grey cells. But a blank page? There’s no fun in that!

    Liked by 1 person

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