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There are two ways to write a novel.  Plotting (you make an outline, a plan, a roadmap if you will, and then you sit down and write it) and pantsing (you write "by the seat of your pants, throwing caution to the wind).  So when I get asked if I'm a plotter or a pantser, I'm all like er, uh, hold on, let me?  Pantser?  I think?  But I kind of, um, do planny things?

And it gets kind of awkward because in these inarticulate moments I have managed to confuse everyone including myself. And probably spilled a drink.

In recent discussions, however, I've had a bit of a revelation, silly as it is. I've realized that I -- like many writers -- am a plotter/pantser hybrid.  And perhaps what I'm doing is something we could call Pantsing Responsibly.  And, maybe, just maybe, I could share some of my responsible pantsing tips with other writers. Starting with paper notebooks.

Anyone can find a notebook.  If there isn't already one in your house (for shame!), you can get a notebook for like ninety-nine (American) cents at your grocery store.  Or you can splurge and get a fancy Moleskine or something (I do, sometimes). Notebooks are as cheap as you need them to be, easy to come by, and presumably easy to use.  But I guess with a lot of people doing the bulk of their writing on computers, using a paper notebook doesn't come as naturally.  So here are some plotter-esque things that any pantser can do with a notebook in hand.

Some of my novelling notebooks. 1.AUGUST TIDES, aka NaNoWriMo 2010; 2. April of this year's Camp NaNo,  ANDI & VINE, cowritten with Priya Chand; 3. 1999; 4. GRUNGE, which I may never finish; 5. ME AND THE JERSEY DEVIL; 6. My first novel, MYSELF BEHIND MYSELF, back then just called "Jody Book;" 7. FOOL's GOLD, which is no longer a novella (NaNoWriMo 2011); 8. COME ON EILEEN, aka Camp NaNo August 2012, cowritten with Priya Chand; 9. my current project, CHARLOTTE, AFTER.
Some of my novelling notebooks: 1.AUGUST TIDES, aka NaNoWriMo 2010; 2. April of this year's Camp NaNo, ANDI & VINE,
cowritten with Priya Chand; 
3. 1999; 4. GRUNGE, which I may never finish; 5. ME AND THE JERSEY DEVIL; 6. My first novel,
MYSELF BEHIND MYSELF, back then just called "Jody Book;" 
7. FOOL's GOLD, which is no longer a novella (NaNoWriMo 2011);
8. COME ON EILEEN, aka Camp NaNo August 2012, cowritten with Priya Chand; 
9. my current project, CHARLOTTE, AFTER.

1. Set aside a notebook for your project. Right now.


This might seem silly and self-indulgent, but the point is to organize all your thoughts and ideas for the project in one space.  Now that I say it, it seems kind of obvious, right?  I have a different notebook for every novel I've finished (and even some that I haven't).  And when I get feedback on drafts, and do revisions, I can go and keep all of that information in the notebook, too.

The cover of my CHARLOTTE, AFTER notebook. I like to prettify my notebooks.
The cover of my CHARLOTTE, AFTER notebook. I like to prettify my notebooks.

2. Write a mini-synopsis.


Maybe you can't write the whole thing.  But if you can at least come up with a tag line (like what would be on the cover of a book or in a movie trailer), or a bit of a blurb (like the back of a book) it will be super helpful to you as you write!

The synopsis page from COME ON EILEEN. Lots of these things changed as we wrote, but it was a good place to start.
The synopsis page from COME ON EILEEN. Lots of these things changed as we wrote, but it was a good place to start.

3. Make a page for each of your main characters.


These are not character sheets.  Okay, maybe a bit about how they look, bust mostly about how they think, their points of view, how they might act and talk. If there are important things you're likely to forget (I forget stuff about cars all the time), write those down. I always note what kind of car my character drives (if they drive) and usually some hobbies.

This is the character page for Kelsey aka Ethan (name changes happen a lot) in ME AND THE JERSEY DEVIL.
This is the character page for Kasey aka Ethan (name changes happen a lot) in my ME AND THE JERSEY DEVIL notebook.

4. Brainstorm.


Everyone's style is different, but when I'm starting a book I like to have a few ideas on things like theme and voice and character development.  But I also like to think about roadblocks a lot. I always say that the three things you need to know are who your character is, what she wants, and what's in her way.  One of the things I brainstorm either right after I start or even before is a list of possible roadblocks. The things that get in your character's way are what add tension and excitement to the story.  So having a list there is super helpful!

The "Possible Crises" brainstorm page from my current project, CHARLOTTE, AFTER, which is a road trip book.  (I like bears.)
The "Possible Crises" brainstorm page from my current project, CHARLOTTE, AFTER, which is a road trip book. (I like bears.)

5. Journal.


Every day can't be a sit down and know exactly what to do with your story from the second you open the file day.  When I'm stuck, one thing I do is journal about my writing, about the book, where it's going and what loose ends I have to tie up. If you let yourself kind of freewrite about the story, you might realize where it needs to go, what happens next, or even get an idea for something new to try. Even when you're not writing the novel, you're thinking about it, and that thinking is much more effective when it's written down and stored somewhere tangible.

A page of journalling from AUGUST TIDES (working title VISITED THE SEA). There are many more pages of journaling like this, especially after I got revision notes from my agent. (This is the book that landed me said agent.)
A page of journalling from AUGUST TIDES (working title VISITED THE SEA). There are many more pages of journaling like this,
especially after I got revision notes from my agent. (This is the book that landed me said agent.)

Everyone's notebooks will be different.  From the kind of notebook you buy -- I like smaller skinnier notebooks with pretty covers, you might like a legal pad -- to what you do with it.  But I don't think any writer should be without one.  I hope these tips are helpful for you pantsers out there looking for a way to organize.  You don't have to write a 50-page outline to prep for a new novel (though I know writers who work this way!), but life sure is easier as a novelist when you have some ideas to fall back on when you get stuck, and a bit of direction along the way.

Happy notebooking, y'all!

http://www.ekristinanderson.com




Wrote this for the Project Educate Story Planning Week. Hope it's helpful!
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:icondierat:
dierat Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2013   Digital Artist
Great article! I'm a definite plotter but I can relate to your process a lot. The way I've been working is I have one really long google doc file that I write everything in - questions about where I'm going, notes about what I have left to do, general ideas about themes and story direction, etc. It's kind of a mixture of brainstorming and journaling, and I like it because every idea I have, even stupid ones, are recorded and can be used at a later date if they turn out to be helpful. And just going over what I have left to figure out often leads to new ideas and solution. Then I have separate google docs for stuff that I've (tentatively) decided are going to be used, including character descriptions, a plot synopsis, game mechanics (because this is for an RPG), etc. I used to use notebooks when I was younger, but these days I've moved to digital because I never have to worry about misplacing the documents and I can access them from any computer. Thanks for taking the time to explain your process! :heart:
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2013  Professional Writer
Glad you got something out of the article!
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:iconkaizenkitty:
KaizenKitty Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2013  Student Writer
Interesting article. To be honest I don't think pantsers and plotters are that different. Pantsers also plan/plot, only after they have written a first draft. So in effect, the first draft of a pantser is the same stage as the brainstorm stage of a plotter (prewriting).

...if you're interested, I've written an article about it: creativewritingblogs.deviantar…
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:iconwinterofthesoul:
WinteroftheSoul Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2013
Danke schon, Pinky! Faved for future reference! :)
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:iconroxastheranger:
RoxasTheRanger Featured By Owner Jun 19, 2013
Well, that's not the kind of pantsing or plotting I do...Muahahahahahahaha.
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:iconriemea:
Riemea Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This is a really awesome and helpful article! Thanks a lot for writing it! :)
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2013  Professional Writer
You're welcome! Glad you enjoyed!
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:iconriemea:
Riemea Featured By Owner Jun 20, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:heart:
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:iconnear-kitten:
Near-Kitten Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is a great idea, thank you for this journal!!
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2013  Professional Writer
Glad you got something out of it!
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:iconbraxton-t-rutledge:
Braxton-T-Rutledge Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013
Pantsing responsibly should probably include getting to know the characters so well that you can inhabit their voices. Instead of forcing them through actions to achieve plot points, they create their own plot points by naturally living in the fucked up universe you provide.

I've heard a lot of people use music or art or locations to help them do that, embody the voice of that character.

I'm not a fiction writer. That shit is too much like work for me. But I do know a few things about reading fiction, and plotty fiction is predictable and boring to me. The characters are always flatter (even if well developed) than in fiction in which the author allows a character to live, and in living screw up, and in screwing up create conflict, and the through whatever motions are natural resolve (or not) the conflict(s).
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Professional Writer
I'm not sure if you read the post? Because the point of this is little things you can do to make your life easier while writing without an outline, including character development.

As a reader, do you really think you know how a story was written? Whether the writer used an outline or not?
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:iconbraxton-t-rutledge:
Braxton-T-Rutledge Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2013
I absolutely read the post. I was throwing in an addendum. I had a much longer response, and realized it was a waste of both our times to post it.

I can generally tell if a writer used an outline, and I can generally tell if they are a plot writer or a character writer. There are extremely good writers that make it impossible for me to tell, yes.
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2013  Professional Writer
How can you tell?
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:iconbraxton-t-rutledge:
Braxton-T-Rutledge Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2013
If the character seems to be pushed or "shuttled" from one event to the other, or if they make a choice or take an action that didn't 'have' to be taken unless you finish the book and realize that without that choice or action, the ending resolution couldn't have happened.

It boils down to that. There will be moments in a story written from an outline that will scream "this had to happen or the plot\ending\conflict\resolution in my outline can't happen".

This happens a lot in genre fiction. That doesn't mean it is a bad thing. The story can be entertaining, the prose style can be good, but the events of the story take priority over the characters of the story. And if that happens, I can always see it. There's a really good book called "City of Theives." The author makes the choice to let events take precedence (even though he does A LOT OF WORK trying to hide that fact), but it makes sense. He's writing a fictionalized account of his grandfather's time in Leningrad during the seige (1941 - 1944). At it's heart are distinct events that need covering, and those events must be arrived at, because those events are more important than the character.

The key to making me unable to tell is to do both things, spend a lot of time with the characters, embody them, and find out how they'd respond, and make sure it shows up on the page. It wasn't because the story was ALWAYS heading to a conclusion, the conclusion of a story needs to be BECAUSE of WHO the CHARACTERS ARE.

Even if that conclusion and every other action was mapped out beforehand.

Look at Fight Club, or Cat's Cradle, or Fahrenheit 451. I can only tell you that the authors did a lot of hard work creating them, and that it took years to create those two hundred or so pages.
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:iconthe-inkling:
The-Inkling Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2013   Writer
I think the point being made here was that character/plot driven stories aren't necessarily influenced by outlining or a lack thereof. They are completely unrelated issues, and are ultimately determined by the style and ability of the particular author (and indeed the particular story, since each one calls for something different). So sure you can tell if it's a character driven plot or not, but planning (which is what this article was about) is a more fickle and ephemeral beast than you might think.

To use your example, (which was all I initially intended to say here, ha) Fahrenheit 451 was actually written over 18 days (divided into two 9-day periods) on a rented typewriter. So while the concept evolved from a number of short stories he had written over a longer period of time, the actual planning process for Fahrenheit itself (if there was any process at all) was quite short. If anything it makes the work even more remarkable!
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2013  Professional Writer
I think you'd be surprised to find out which authors outline and which don't.
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:iconbraxton-t-rutledge:
Braxton-T-Rutledge Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2013
You are entitled to an opinion.

How fortunate that the opinion allows you to dismiss me with fourteen words.
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:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Student Writer
Notebooks are the best things ever. I have a notebook for each of my novels too, but I really like the way you have yours set up; I'll have to try it out and see what works for me and what doesn't. Thanks!
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Professional Writer
Thanks! I think different set ups work for different people. Just like my friends who write 50-page outlines write successful novels, and I'll never be a 50-page-outline person!
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:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Student Writer
You're welcome. Oh definitely. Haha. I love finding out how other people set their stuff up. Wow! That's insane! They're very planny! Haha. Don't worry: I never will be either!
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:iconmirz-alt:
mirz-alt Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013   General Artist
I have only started using notebooks again after many years. Not even that I never wrote anything out, but I just got it in my head that typing was faster and if I did write it out, there was some defect in it (my wonky neurosis). But now that I am forcing myself to write while I commute and such, it's been nice to go to my notebook. Now if I can just keep it up.

Nice article.
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Professional Writer
Yeah I think the fact that you have to go slower when you're writing in a notebook helps sometimes.
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:iconanapests-and-ink:
anapests-and-ink Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I use my notebook for everything, and I think some stuff gets lost in the mix. I like the idea of separate notebooks for each project; I might need to try this out. :)
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Professional Writer
Yeah that's why I started doing the separate notebooks -- things were getting lost!
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:iconnichrysalis:
Nichrysalis Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Awesomeness. :thumbsup:
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Professional Writer
Thanks!
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:iconfreakiegeekie:
FreakieGeekie Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I write things in a notebook all the time. I never organize it though. XD
Maybe I should do that...
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Professional Writer
Try it!
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:iconfreakiegeekie:
FreakieGeekie Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I actually started doing that the other day combined with what Grim suggested and I'm getting a few ideas. It's nice what happens when we try something new and different :D
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Professional Writer
Woo! Glad it's working for you!
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:iconfreakiegeekie:
FreakieGeekie Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
So am I! Maybe I'll actually churn out something worth reading come July :3
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:iconmomerath74:
momerath74 Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I like your notebook method. It's an interesting way of not only writing the story but incorporating other crucial elements (like character ideas, plot lines, etc.). This is something I could use for all the notebooks I've started and never finished over the years. Thank you for sharing this wonderful idea! :D
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013  Professional Writer
Glad you found it useful!
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:iconcaedy:
Caedy Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I think I need to do this. I need to reorganize myself for Camp NaNo in July, and I might actually finish a novel this year.
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013  Professional Writer
It definitely helps for Nano!
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:iconcaedy:
Caedy Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Yeah, I bet.

Will get a notebook soon.
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:iconmidnightpanther:
midnightpanther Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I don't have trouble with the characters (mostly cuz I do fanfiction) it's the plot I can't keep up with. That's why I've never finished a chapter fic. I also have a bad habit of writing myself into a corner that requires massive edits to get out of again. *facedesk*

What I do is I come up with the basic storyline. What they're going to do, where they start, and most importantly, how it ends. From there I can pretty much pants the stuff in between to connect it all, usually with smaller written-before-I-got-to-that-point scenes. Works fine until my stupid hamster attention span decides that it's bored, or the Artist's Block rears it's ugly blocky head and decides to get comfy. *more facedesk*

I keep my notes on wordpad documents with appropriate labels all in a folder with the fic name on it. I don't use paper anymore because I'm such a spaz-brain that I can set something down, turn around, and forget where I put it. >.< *lots of facedesking*

One-shots are my friends. xP
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013  Professional Writer
Sounds like you could use my notebook method.
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:iconmidnightpanther:
midnightpanther Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Nah. Tried it before and just lost the silly thing. At least on my computer I always know where it is.

I'm a thinker. I analyze things and plan without realizing it. The only problem with that is that I lose interest in a story if I already know what's going to happen. But if I have no clear goal/finish line, I lose interest because I don't know what to do with it.

I'm just screwed either way, aren't I?
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Professional Writer
Well maybe you should just make a habit of having the notebook? I mean, that's what I do. At this point grabbing my notebook before I leave is just as natural as putting on my glasses.

Of course, I'm a thinker, too. I just think it's way more useful to put those thoughts on paper.
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:iconmidnightpanther:
midnightpanther Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I don't like carrying crap. That's why my purse is designed like a backpack. :P Chronic Lazy Ass Disease strikes again!
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Professional Writer
Maybe a notebook shouldn't be in the category of "crap." You might help yourself that way. :)
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:iconmidnightpanther:
midnightpanther Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Lol I meant carrying it along with all my other crap.
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2013  Professional Writer
Eh, get a little one.
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(1 Reply)
:iconsadisticicecream:
SadisticIceCream Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013   Writer
I need to get better about keeping a notebook (and keeping on notebook. And not having my notes all over the goddamn place). Thanks for the tips. :D
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:iconcaedy:
Caedy Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Yeah, I usually end up with notes all over the damned place too.

Gonna be starting a bit more planning for Camp NaNo in July.
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