Fiction,  Writing

Pantser Problems – Getting Out Of The Hole You’ve Dug

You pride yourself on being a pantser – someone who just dives right in with their book project without an outline, writing by the seat of your pants.  It’s exciting – I get it! You want to just get started, but what happens when you get to that one scene and you don’t know what happens next? Let me tell you…

Stop & Assess – Where You Are

The best way I have found to do this is with what my editor calls a reverse outline.  Basically, you read what you have written so far and using very easy bullets, you write down what has happened.  For example:

  • Bob meets Jane
  • Jane hates Bob
  • Jane tells her sister about Bob
  • Jane’s sister realizes she knows Bob

I want these bullets to look like a kids primer book – easy breezy. 

Figure Out Your Ending

Pantsers don’t get scared, I’m not asking for a detailed outline – we are going to stay with these easy bullet points for this too.  You don’t need a full blown plan, but you do need to know where you are going.  Do Bob and Jane end up together? Do Bob and the sister end up together? Does Bob get murdered? What happens before The End?

This does not need to be the ending you actually write, but like pulling back an arrow you need to know where you are aiming before you let go, right? Right! That’s all I’m asking you do.  So, for example

  • Bob and Jane fall in love
  • Bob and Jane get married
  • Bob falls into the Grand Canyon and dies
  • Jane falls in love with a park ranger

Your ending can be anything you want and need it to be – just write something down so you have an ending, deal?  Okay, how are those bullet points treating you? I’m hoping you are digging this because step three uses more of them.

Map Out The Journey From Point A To Point B

Did you read that heading and freak out?  Unclench please, I’m not asking you to do a full outline – I’m asking for bullet points.  Very simple bullet points starting from where you are and ending with what you figured out in the above step. 

So, if we’re going with the ending that Bob dies at the Grand Canyon and Jane falls in love with that park ranger, because – why not! – then you need to figure out how to take Bob and Jane on this road from hating each other to true love to death.  

  • Jane gives Bob a chance
  • The first date goes really well
  • At the one month anniversary, they realize neither has dated anyone that long before
  • Something happens here (this is perfectly fine to do when doing these bullet points) and Bob and Jane start fighting
  • To re-ignite their romance, they go on a trip to the Grand Canyon
  • It’s late, it’s raining, it’s dark and Bob falls in
  • Jane, grieving, meets Park Ranger Ron
  • Jane falls in love

Literally, it can be that simple!

Extra Tip

Now, I’m going to throw in something…extra that you can take or leave, pantsers.  Take those bullet points and expand on them as needed.  I like to do a very detailed outline of a few chapters at a time.  So on Friday I’ll look at what scenes/chapters are coming up and work out characters, conflict, setting, etc so the next week when I sit down I’m ready to go.  You can also do this as a writing warm-up exercise and it can be as simple or as detailed as YOU need.  Take two minutes and just write down the characters and setting. Or don’t write at all – just look over your bullet points, shut your eyes, and put yourself into the setting, open your eyes and start writing.  

I think pantsers like writing by the seat of their pants because it’s exciting, they need space to explore and I believe the bullet point method helps them do that while also keeping them on track to actually type The End.  If you only need the bullet points and don’t mind shuffling things around as new ideas come around – great! If you want to try the extra tip and expand those bullet points before you write – also great!

Let me know in the comments below – Why do you like being a pantser?

And if you found this helpful, I would love for you to check out my Muddy Middle To Manuscript coaching package where I will walk you through a process of getting very clear on your Big Why, becoming friends with your characters, and we will fix your outline so you can type The End all with a smile on your face.