Click bait title aside, let’s be honest here. I’m Tea. I’m a pantser. A fly-by nighter. A slightly attention scattered daydreamer who comes up with plots like that (tries and fails to snap her fingers for the millionth time). We don’t do outlines. We’re too cool for school. We’re a writer. (insert snobbish sniff here).
Except when things don’t work.
Except when your book goes from one book to seven because you have so many ideas.
To quote myself at that moment when I stared at my screen and realized what I had got myself into. “Shit”
Now for the sake of that honesty I was trying for, I have written outlines before. My fanfics, as it were. Because clearly priorities, right? But when it has come to my originals I’ve let it flow more naturally. Has there been an obvious change in my writing? Well, yes. I’m less likely to expound on meaningless exposition for the sake of it. My chapters went from 15000 words to 2000 max. I’m less complex (ha! Figure this shit out! I used to say. What can I say? I was young.)
Now the negative to that is I got right out of writing particularly long stories. I kept them short. Or worse, if they were to be a series, I abandoned them completely. Subject to overwhelm. Do not pass go, do not say to an agent ‘hey so I have a four book series already plotted and ready to go’. Do not finish said stories. A cardinal sin, if you ask some writers.
So after staring for a long time at my finished booked, An Unseen Magician, I knew what I had known in the very beginning of starting this book. This world had multiple stories, multiple characters I hadn’t even met yet, and more importantly, I hadn’t even done what I intended on doing in the first place. That wasn’t for six more books. Six. Count ’em. Seven books in total. My tap out point is usually three if you follow my typical trilogy rules. Thou shan’t go past three. Not four. Not five. Three. (read as Michael Palin in Holy Grail).
So as I started to plot on a Monday, I began to burrow deeper and deeper into the story. My main character took on a different personality than I planned. Gone was the scared woman and in it became a character coming into her own more and more. The devil-may-care magician became a hero after becoming a villain. The romantic tropes in it became heavy with a weight of reality. Places sprang up. Places I hadn’t realized were even there. The impact of what I was writing was becoming astonishingly clear.
I had an outline I absolutely loved. Seven books outlined in summaries with notes in the margins and casually placed reminders not to forget ‘so and so did such and such’. The Wheel Road, the setting, took on a full history that I hadn’t realized as I divided her up into parts.
This is arguably, for me, the most frustrating part of writing long stories. There needs to be an outline in this case to cover the sprawling nature of the books and the full story. I had chafed so long against what I felt were restraints set by the outline I forgot that my own nature is to take that outline and go so far outside of it that my outline becomes a beast on its own, a character with its own will.
Some writers do not outline. I often don’t. Not when I’m learning a story. But in this situation? I’m needing a bit of a safety net to let myself know where I am going. This is too large to avoid doing and the nature of what I’m doing, creating, needs that boundary line so I don’t wiggle so far off my chosen path that by the time I get to the end it isn’t a huge inflated mess that makes no sense.
The technical term for what I am is a gardener. I plant the seeds and I let the story blossom from them. There is still the confines of the direction I want but this allows the flowers and weeds to come out. There’s a lot of trimming, there’s a lot of ‘what on earth’ which is the wonder I still want in discovering my own story. If you completely eradicate that wonder, then what you are doing, in my opinion, is stealing from the book itself. Stories have personalities, after all. You don’t want to have it so plotted out that if you veer off the pathway you throw up your hands and give up.
So here I sit. Seven Outlines. Seven Books. One big ole Wheel Road where to have all my story fun in. Guess it’s time to start really writing again.
So are you a pantser or a plotter? Or are you both?