I don’t know about you, but I HATE trying to make an outline for a book I want to write. I can never get it perfect and as I write, it always ends up changing.
Yet, at the same time, if I am a complete pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants) with the story I’m writing, it will be horrible.
What’s the happy medium here?
Within the past year of my journey as a writer, I’ve found a formula that brings together the best of both worlds for plotters and pantsers.
Larry Brooks has some great things to say about plot and structure in his book Story Engineering. Let me give you the short version that I use for writing a story.
You can break the structure of a story down into four parts. The stops you take on your journey through the four parts are your plot points.
Plotters can outline every single thing between plot points to their heart’s delight.
Pantsers can write from plot point to plot point without an outline as long as they know what their plot points are going to be (roughly).
It is the best of both worlds!
First off, everyone needs an opening scene. That is your starting point regardless of what kind of writing you’re doing. In my experience, both plotters and pantsers have thought a lot about this and know where they want to start, so that’s not usually a big deal.
Then we move into PART ONE. This is the set up of your story. For pantsers, that means you’re writing to the first plot point. For plotters, well… we all know how that goes. 😉
The end of PART ONE happens at the first plot point. Stop numero uno. At the first plot point, everything changes for your character. There’s no going back from this point as they are launched on their quest into the unknown.
Plotters have everything mapped out to get to the next stop, the first pinch point. Pantsers just know they need to introduce their villain. So they’re writing, driven by the next point…
And we arrive at the pinch point, which is about halfway through PART TWO. PART TWO is all about the story quest, developing your character’s goal that’s eventually going to build up and end at the midpoint. But first, the pinch point.
That’s the moment when you give the reader a peek into the life of your villain without doing it through your main character’s eyes.
Now, onward to the midpoint. That’s my favorite part of the story because…
…sorry, got a little excited there.
The midpoint is also known as plot point two.
This is the character’s turning point. His breakthrough. The moment he can begin to win against the enemy. Reading forward from the second plot point (concluding PART TWO) should feel like reading another book to a certain extent.
Now, let’s enter PART THREE. This is the build up to the big battle and halfway through, we’re going to stop at another pinch point. Another glimpse of the villain. This time, don’t hold anything back. Reveal your villain at the peak of his power so the reader knows what the main character is about to go up against.
It creates fantastic tension.
Last but not least, the third plot point is going to be very subtle. Sometimes it gets lost. It is the little “ah ha” moment a character has that gives him the ability to triumph in the final battle. It is also the last point where you can (it’s a suggestion) interject new story information.
Then we end up in PART FOUR. The final battle, the conclusion, and last but not least, the closing scene…
As long as a pantser knows what’s going to happen at each of the plot points and pinch points, they’re able to write to and from those points just as effectively as a plotter with an outline.
In fact, the first time I used this guided pantsing method, I didn’t have to rewrite my first draft. WHAT? 😯 But the developmental editor didn’t have any structural changes for me. Everything was good to go. Following this writing method saved me oodles of time.
And I didn’t even have to plot an outline.