Plotting for “Pantsers”

I hate plotting. Charts scare me. Outlines put a big ol’ kebash on my creativity, and stall my thought processes. I don’t know a large portion of “official” names for the parts of a story and I don’t care to learn. In other words: I’m a total pantser*.

Pantser: A writer who “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don’t pre-plan anything or plan just a little. Organic writing.

So, how do I keep track of the myriad plot points racing through my brain at any one given time? I wish the answer was “OMG I’ve found the perfect, all-in-one, mega awesome solution to every writer’s struggle!” but I haven’t. There isn’t one, in fact. (There are a few programs that come damn close, though. I’ve compiled a list here.)

As a fantastic (amazing, wonderful, stupendous) friend (Lily Michaels!) once told me in the middle of one of my writerly breakdowns, “There is no right way. There’s only YOUR way.”

After I dragged myself up off the floor, I realized she was totally right. I don’t have to use someone else’s prescribed method of keeping track! In fact, it’s better if I don’t.

Why?

Some people, like myself, simply can’t function in a rigid environment. Boxes with labels, for example. What if I put the wrong info in it?! Will the chart then not make sense? What’s THAT box for? etc. etc.

The solution? Make your own!

“Great,” you’re thinking. “That was uber helpful, but where do I start??”

That same great, amazing friend said a word that threw my world for a loop. Super simple, stupid easy word, which is why it never occurred to me. I was overthinking it. What was that word?

Spreadsheet.

“Woah, woah! Slow down there!” I hear you. Empty boxes. Giant screen of space with nothing in it.

But, hear me out.

It doesn’t have to be organized. Not at all. Better if it isn’t, actually. Not to begin with at any rate.

This box doesn’t have to have this, that, or the other thing in it, if you don’t want it there. Put your cursor in box A-1 and let loose. As it turns out, I don’t function well working vertically! I had no idea!

Once the rigidity of form was gone, and I just started typing, things extended horizontally. The entire outline exploded out of my head in a matter of minutes. Middle to start to mid-end to climax back to the beginning, and so on. A word in box 4 might connect to box 1, jogging my memory for what I want at the end, box 29 or whatever number it is. It ended up like an upside down/inside out timeline, if that makes sense.

BUT GUESS WHAT! Even if that doesn’t make sense to you, it makes sense to me! And that’s all that matters. You’re making this thing for you and you alone, to keep you from going insane.

I didn’t label a single box. I didn’t put chapter numbers as headers. Most of what’s in there isn’t even complete sentences. In fact, it probably looks like short-hand for monkeys to someone else.

Don’t care. It saved my sanity. And if I was typing away on the far right and remembered something I wanted in an earlier section I just slid my happy little cursor over to the box UNDER that previous plot thingy and typed it in.

Boom. Done. Not lost.

You don’t even have to do that if that’s too rigid! Just type it in it’s own little box. You can move those boxes around all over that dadgum spreadsheet when you’re ready!

Here’s a non-spoiler picture of how my outline looks. It’s not complete, but anything else that pops in my mind goes straight in there. (It’s fuzzy to ensure book 4 doesn’t make an appearance too early. )

So, in closing: try a spreadsheet. See what comes out. It might be the blessing you’ve been searching for, right in your program folder the entire time.

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