Pantser or plotter? Do you write by the seat of the pants or from an outline? You need to do both. Here’s why.
The process of writing a book manuscript requires both kinds of writing. Intense periods of writing uninterrupted in a generative flow experience and critical reflection on the narration as narrative. After some time and distance between you and your copy has passed, short bursts of structural analysis can advance the story. And that’s more important than your word count. You need to put in the butt-time on the manuscript but without concern for the reader’s comprehension the writer produces pages without them readied for publication. Spending time creating a multi-tiered outline of major (plot) points can help your organize but it isn’t a substitute for writing. And remember readers don’t enjoy PowerPoint presentations in print. Often times the structure emerges from the creative writing process.
The question isn’t whether you’re a panster or a plotter. It’s whether you are doing both. Back and forth, a book goes through an iterative process of writing and rewriting. And you will reach points where you can’t see your work clearly. Sometimes you have not written what you think you have and it takes a reader to tell you something is not coming through clearly. You tweak it in so many tiny ways that reading it yet again is pointless. You can’t see the problems.
Meta-writing exercises help you recognize and build on the story’s structure, its internal architecture. Here are some of the methods I recommend to help authors figure out their story arc.
(1) Story map – Make a list of your characters. Identify setting, POV, central challenge/conflict/problem, themes, diagram plot along Aristotelian arc
(2) Timelines – Create chronology of beginning and end points to the narrative and major events by date/time/place including characters’ storylines.
(3) Themes – Identify the themes which give your work universal appeal and develop each theme as a storyline.
(4) Character Sketches – For each major character, write or draw a portrait of the person. When do they appear in the story? What do they contribute to the plot? What themes or values are embodied in their character? What are their motives? How do they relate to the other characters? What do they look like, talk like, smell like, etc.? Create personality profiles for the major characters in your narrative and drop details from your sketches into the narrative each time the character appears.
(5) Question Analysis – Begin by making a list of the central questions your book will answer for readers. Identify questions you need to answer before you can find answers to the larger questions. Organize information around the questions it answers.
(6) Setting Sketches or Maps – In fiction this is called “world-building.” In film this is called “storyboarding.” Create a description of the physical locations of the major scenes in the narrative.
If you’d like help finding your narrative arc, contact Jill Swenson today.
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…