I will start this post with a confession. I have a huge pile of abandoned novels sitting on my computer. I suspect I am not alone.

Second confession. I am a “Pantser.” For those unfamiliar with the term, that means I write “from the seat of my pants.” A “Pantser” is someone who writes without a detailed outline of the novel. I have looked at countless novel outlines by famous authors. I marvel at the level of intricate detail. I have tried to emulate that many times. I fail without exception. It absolutely does not work for me. If you can build an outline like that, this post is not going to interest you.

Third confession. I wish I could outline. I can’t, so let’s move on.

To be clear, I do work from a very basic outline. I know who the good guys are. I know who the bad guys are. I know how it begins. I know how it ends. That’s all. I have no detail on how it’s going to go from beginning to end. That is how I write. It took me many years to accept that.

Now, back to the endless pile of half written novels. Over the last forty years, or so, I have noticed that my novels always become character “deep dives”. I spend an enormous amount of time inside the head of the characters. I get into the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how they think and act. Driving characters through their arcs is where I thrive when writing. That combined with being a “Pantser” is the heart of the problem. In all my abandoned novels, I had the same issue. I wrote myself into a corner I could not escape from. I could not find a way to “plot” my way out of it. I had no real outline. The only way I could fix it would be to go back and do a massive re-write. When faced with that daunting task, I would throw in the towel and move on to the next project.

Often, I would try to outline again so I would not end up in the corner. Eventually, I would remember that I can’t outline if my life depended on it and give up. Then I would try and do and “event driven” as opposed to character driven work. Why? Because isn’t that what I was supposed to be doing? But invariably, I ended up inside the characters heads again and the “event driven” novel went out the window.

After many years of beating my head against the wall I had an epiphany. It’s all about the characters for me! The real problem I was having was that the plot was disassociated from the character arcs! Now, I outline the characters, not the novel. Then, I let the characters take me on a journey with them.  It works for me! The best part about beating your head against the wall comes when you stop!

So, in a nutshell. If you’re a “Pantser” and you’ve written yourself into the corner countless times, try detailed character outlines. Review them carefully, then let the characters take you on a journey.  It works for me. I hope it works for you.

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I will start this post with a confession. I have a huge pile of abandoned novels sitting on my computer. I suspect I am not alone. Second confession. I am a “Pantser.” For those unfamiliar with the term, that means I write […]

Jason Gabriel