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Planner or Pantser? A novel writing prep series that might help…

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a planner not a pantser.  I’m eternally jealous of all those pantsers out there who can sit down and create a novel without a roadmap.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t outline every twist and turn up front – that would ruin the fun of discovering surprises along the way.  But I do break out into metaphorical hives if I’m sitting in the muck of the middle without a plan.  With the eve of NaNoWriMo almost here, the plan for my novel is shaping up nicely, and I thought I’d break it down into parts to perhaps offer up some inspiration if you find yourself sitting in the muck during November.

This 16-part novel writing prep series will unfold over the course of the month and will offer up ideas and suggestions for different parts of the novel writing experience.  Here’s a glimpse at some of the upcoming topics if you’d like to follow the series or join the discussion:

  1. The Seed – Where do ideas for novels come from and how do we find them?
  2. The Thanks – Sounds silly, but plan ahead for acknowledgements and giving thanks.
  3. The Motivation – 5 Tips for Finding the Right Writing Buddy
  4. The Plan – From notes to novel in 5 easy steps
  5. The Roots – Determining the structure of your novel
  6. The Research – Write what you know OR know what you write?
  7. The Mind Map – Give your ideas a visual form to see connections and threads.
  8. The Characters – Create a visual library to get to know your characters
  9. The Characters Part 2 – Is it backstory or does it bring your story back to life?
  10. The Characters Part 3 – Are your secondary characters squelching your main character?
  11. The Characters Part 4 – What’s an arc and why does my character need one?
  12. The Setting – To trip or not to trip?
  13. The Problem – Does your main character have a main problem?
  14. The Theme – That elusive concept
  15. The Plot Points – Building blocks for success
  16. The First Draft – Ugh! I can’t stand my own words!
  17. The Sub-Plots – Do you need them? Do you have them?
  18. The Music – Playlists can set the mood and get you out of a rut

Oops, that’s eighteen.  See I’m already veering from the plan.  I told you I can find a little pantser in me when I try.

How about you?  Are you a pantser, a planner or something in between?

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24 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m definitely in between. I do enjoy a good plan because it helps to get me inspired and excited but mostly, I just love sitting down, breathing deeply, and writing whatever words run from my brain to my fingertips!

    Great post and useful planning advice! 🙂

    October 31, 2011
    • I do love those great stream-of-consciousness session. There’s something so cleansing about letting the words just flow. For me they work best when I have some idea of the Point B I’m trying to reach during that session. I plan Point A, I plan Point B. Getting there is when I let my slightly uptight pantser step in.

      October 31, 2011
  2. Kristin #

    This is interesting. I’m a planner, but only because I forced myself to become one after my first monstrosity of a novel. I’ve planned the second one in an effort to keep it lean. Even so, my outline is just a framework that gets fleshed out as I write — almost every scene leads to another one I need to write down the road.

    It looks like my planning process is a lot different from yours. I’m looking forward to seeing your process in detail.

    October 31, 2011
    • Kristin, it sound like you could join the reformed pantsers support group I was talking to duenorthern about. Have a great November and happy writing.

      October 31, 2011
  3. I start on a new book once I have a pretty good idea of where it begins, who the characters are, and where I think it might go — but I don’t commit to any of that. Everything can change as the story is written. I kind of wish I COULD be a planner because I think I’d get a lot more written, but it feels like homework if I’ve figured out “too much” of the story before I get started… so I just kind of do what I do, for better or for worse. 😉

    October 31, 2011
    • I completely understand the homework aspect, Brian. Lucky for me, I was always a sucker for homework, so I love those kind of assignments. I know call me a nerd! Have a great November and thanks for stopping by.

      October 31, 2011
  4. Can’t wait to read all the future tips! I am a pantser than planner, but given the limited success, I think I am ready for a reform!!

    October 31, 2011
    • Sounds like there could be a support group for reformed pantsers in your future, duenorthern. Thanks for visiting and have a great November.

      October 31, 2011
  5. Seeing as my upcoming novel will be my first attempt, I’m not yet sure where I fall in this equation. I think I’m leaning towards the planner because I’m constantly writing notes and trying to develop an outline for where this idea of mine is going to go. I look forward to following this series though because I think as a first time writer, it will be extremely beneficial.

    October 31, 2011
    • Sometimes those notes turn into a pile of gold for me. Other times a pile of steaming you-know-what. But if I don’t get them down, I get overwhelmed with all those ideas and voices floating around in my head. Sometimes it’s easier to see the merit of your ideas when they are on the page, or the back of a cocktail napkin or anywhere other than inside your head. I hope you find a few tips that help, sportsjim.

      October 31, 2011
  6. I like your advice too. I write a plan with enough detail to use or stray from I suppose it’s like a good conversation in some ways because there is time for tangents but also moving back on track. I like to plan but I love to write and see where my initial plan takes me (and any other poor soul who’s up for the trip.) ;-))

    October 31, 2011
    • Thanks for stopping by, loveofwords52. I love your comparison to a good conversation. What a great comparison. Enjoy November!

      October 31, 2011
  7. Like someone else here said, I’m an in-betweener. I never liked outlining in school which is probably part of my problem. Outlines give me hives!

    I have character sheets and sketches, notes and brief plans, and sometimes maps. Sometimes I have have websites bookmarked or other aids handy (like the cookbooks I used my second NaNo).

    I find if I’ve created vivid characters, they soon start talking to me and telling me where THEY want to go. And it’s never someplace I’d planned for.

    Great topic – thanks!!

    October 31, 2011
    • I do love character sheet and maps and notes and charts and outlines and sketches and… Sometimes I have to force myself to stop planning and start writing. Planning and creating are half the fun. Thanks for stopping by.

      October 31, 2011
  8. I’m a plotter/planner/outliner – whatever you want to call me. I tried pantsing, but always got stuck and lost interest.

    October 31, 2011
  9. I’m a bit of both, actually. Sometimes, I like planning things out. But other times…it just feels to constraining for me. Usually, I just spew words onto the page and if I need to outline, I just outline on the way. I do need some notes to give me direction, but not too much or I lose all the potential surprises. I do tend to jot down notes that I come up with for my novel (i.e. plot twists, characters, places, names, scenes, etc).

    So I guess that makes me a pantslanner?

    October 31, 2011
    • Pantsplanner – I love it. I’m going to start using that one. It sounds like we work similarly – I plan my characters and backstory thoroughly, then throw these characters together and see how they react to each other. Have a great November and thank for stopping by.

      October 31, 2011
      • I tend to do that too. Sometimes, I get so caught up with the backstories that I forget that they’re, well, BACKstories. But, they’re so much fun to create! You’re basically creating a life for you characters, which isn’t something you can do in real life. You’re the one with complete control.

        Good luck with NaNoWriMo!

        November 1, 2011
  10. Started out as a pantser…now something of a planner…well almost:) I think you just have to sit cramped on that chair until you get all the customary aches and then you wait for something to happen…..it happens!

    October 31, 2011
  11. John D. Witiak #

    In novel writing I am an unremarkable learner unless it’s hard knocks and there, too, I have bludgeoned myself with attempt after attempt. So I am glad to have stumbled, finally, into your blog, Sara. In a word, I have fought planning because I get a thrill when I fly into the great blue sky; a thrill but no completed publishable novel. Who knows? Certainly not I as to whether I will be willing to change my stance to take a road that I’ve not taken. Whatever occurs, thanks.
    Regards,
    John

    November 1, 2011
    • Best of luck to you, John, and I hope you find something helpful on your visit to my virtual neck of the woods. Thanks for stopping by.

      November 1, 2011
  12. I actually thought I was a pantser until I got bothered by my first two weeks and was compelled to actually have my own “roadmap”

    Thanks for this post, Sara. This sure can help! Best of luck to our novels! ;D

    November 1, 2011
  13. It’s awesome that you actually plan the posts and execute them too. It’s just amazing to my mind which can’t even come up with a plan, execution is another struggle!

    November 26, 2011

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  1. The Roots – Determining the structure of your novel: Novel Writing Prep-Series | Sara Toole Miller – Fiction & Non-Fiction Writer

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