There’s two traditional types of writers when it comes to long form fiction or novel: pantsers and outliners. Figuring out which one you are can help you better analyze what steps to take when getting ready to start a new story.
Pantsers tend to fly by the seat of their pants, as the name suggests. When they come up with an idea, they jump in head first with little to no preparation. Most likely none. They rely primarily on their inspiration and whatever their brain comes up with in the moment to put words down on the page. A story idea has to be fairly strong in a person’s mind in order to drive this kind of writing, or you must be exceptional at seizing ideas as they arise and acting on them. In my opinion, pantsers are a very special type of writer. I know personally, I couldn’t create half as well if I didn’t give myself at least a very basic outline. But these writers can create gold out of essentially nothing but an idea and a strong belief in said idea. I admire that. It’s a powerful way to write, but these types of writers have the potential to need more focus and time on the revision process.
Of course, outliners are incredible writers in their own right. These writers like to work out a framework of where the story’s going before they start writing. Outlines give writers a little order to the chaos of creativity swirling around in their brains. These can range from a simple bullet point list of plot points to a comprehensive scene-by-scene playbook. For me, my outline guides me down the right path and gives me a base to stand on to embellish and create off of. A little prep work can go a long, long way and sometimes bring you closer to a finished draft faster, depending on how you work. The downside for outliners is sometimes they can get bogged down by trying to create the perfect framework, they can delay starting their novel. Sometimes they may never even get around to it.
One tool that I would like to recommend to the outliners is an Excel spreadsheet that I discovered on a fantasy and science fiction blog about a year ago. Click here to see the original post and download the tool to follow along. This worksheet is the most incredible outline tool I have ever seen, and it is a great way to really flesh out a story.
Here’s how it works: First, you write your story idea in one sentence. Sum up everything in one sentence, and try to keep it a reasonable length. Then, split that idea into three sentences: beginning, middle, and end. These sentences are automatically transferred down to the next section where you will split three into nine (beginning of the beginning, middle of the beginning, end of the beginning, etc). Eventually, nine becomes twenty-seven, and twenty-seven becomes eighty-one full sentences that give you a detailed layout of how your scenes are going to go in your story.
You come up with ideas that you had no idea you had when using this tool. I found myself pulling scenes and characterization moments out of thin air, and they actually fit beautifully with what I was hoping to convey in my novel. I planned out almost the full trilogy that I plan to write with three separate spreadsheets, and it was absolutely crucial to making sure that I could successfully carry long arcs that would not seem repetitive or burn out too early. I would highly recommend it to any serious writer, pantsers and outliners alike.
So what kind of writer are you? Which style do you fall into? Comment below and share your experiences.