The topic is an evergreen among writers, especially of fiction:
- do we more or less construct our entire story up front, before beginning composition, including characters, backstory, plot arc, etc. Or perhaps
- at least an outline of the main features of the plot and main characters, or
- have a vague idea of who and what it’s about and sort of wander into it and see where it goes, or
- name the protagonist and let him or her take it from there?
(This post is an invitation to contribute and build a thread).
My biggest issue with “pantsing” is that I’ve never created a truly stunning “twist ending” unless I came up with it from the get-go. I love surprise endings, à la Rod Serling or Chuck Palahniuk, but if I start a story randomly those endings become much harder to pull off. Most of my best twists are actually the inspiration I’ve had for the story in the first place — a thought occurs to me in a “aha” moment, and it’s an original idea I haven’t seen before, and I decide to write about it — but that means coming up with the twist first, not starting something I have no idea how to finish. Other authors probably fare better. But in my case, thinking up those Twilight Zone-esque is hard, and probably cannot be forced. They just sort of have to come to you, and you have to be patient. Once the muse sends me the insight, I can plan a loose outline and improvise the details, but the structure has to be there first.
Everyone has a slightly different process, but I think the majority of writers will do some sort of planning. Something to consider is when that planning gets done. I have a story for which I wrote a beginning and an end without much planning. All I knew is that the character starts at A and gets to B. Now as I work out the middle I’ve started creating outlines and notes as I figure out what needs to happen for the character to make that journey.
I don’t really write longer-length fiction (yet), but in my non-fiction endeavors I outline everything. Helps me stay focused, and know what nail heads I need to hit at every juncture.
I enjoyed writing research papers because of the planning. There is something very satisfying about organizing the information in a bulleted outline that breaks down each paragraph, topic sentence, fact and idea. Fiction is another matter entirely. My fiction outlines are a bunch of sentence fragments meant to be an order of events.
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