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Thread: Pantsers who have finished a novel, how did you manage the story structure?

  1. #1
    cutsie-pie Curlz's Avatar
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    Pantsers who have finished a novel, how did you manage the story structure?

    I've tried not planning ahead. It was for a NaNo, but it doesn't matter. Pantsing is a thing, some people just write and see where it goes. When I do it, it goes all over the place! There is too much introduction and build-up. Then I find myself 3/4 through the wordcount without a culmination point in sight. You know, like when Luke Skywalker has to go to the Deathstar, but he also has to go to other places before that, meet other people and do other things, but when I write things like that the MC goes to lots of places and does lots of things and there's no Deathstar in sight for at least 10 more chapters

    So, if anybody here has been pantsing their novel and have actually reached "The End" and was relatively happy with the result, please share your wisdom here. Did you just do a massive edit afterwards, chopping off chapters and scenes? Or... is there another secret to keeping proper story structure while still pantsing? Or, is outlining inevitable?

  2. #2
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    With mine, even though I start without a firm structure in place, and work in scenes, I have always conceived of an ending before I'm very far along. Then I work toward that. But I've also had the idea for that ending evolve and change as I move along. What I don't do is worry about word count. I'm pretty good at trimming things down when the time comes.

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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW joeyc's Avatar
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    Like blacbird, I had the ending in place. I also had a few set-pieces I wanted to do, like a train robbery. So it's essentially playing connect the dots. I finished the draft and had to go back and tweak a few of the earlier chapters to properly set up stuff that happens later, which I'm working on now. Then I'll go and do one more round of polish and it'll be good to shop around. (I hope.)

  4. #4
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    It's possible to get going on a story that doesn't have a clear ending in place. Before you find your ending, the first draft likely will meander and spawn side plots that need to be edited, even deleted. If they're brilliant and it hurts to cull them, save them in a file as fodder for possible sequels or future stories.

    That's not a bad thing, it's just a different process than what some people prefer.
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  5. #5
    please distract me mccardey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    It's possible to get going on a story that doesn't have a clear ending in place. Before you find your ending, the first draft likely will meander and spawn side plots that need to be edited, even deleted. If they're brilliant and it hurts to cull them, save them in a file as fodder for possible sequels or future stories.

    That's not a bad thing, it's just a different process than what some people prefer.
    I do this. It's not for the faint-hearted. Current WiP, at the end of the second draft, I pulled an entire plotline (32,000 words) out of a 72,000 novel. It meant I could rework the novel, which I like to do.

    Not recommended if you are planning a quick career, but a lot of fun if you just like writing stuff.

    It's a dear little novel now, explores the same ideas but much more concisely. (about 67,000 words, which my agent assures me is fine for this one.)
    Last edited by mccardey; 10-08-2017 at 03:02 AM.

  6. #6
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    Yes, one completed, one halfway through, one 1/4 way through.

    The answer is--inefficiently. I edit and edit and edit and edit. Some people make a point of writing content every day; I edit every day. I've did four full rewrites between Dec and April this past year. A month or so sorting out craft, characterisation, themes, more craft, some plot. Having finally got my plot solidified over August, I've now pulled the whole MS apart into individual scenes and am reconstituting the chapters in a different order.

    Would it be easier with an outline? Sure. But I can't outline or plot in an organic fashion, so there's not much I can do about it.

    For actual writing, I don't write as such; chapters begin as bullet point lists, with conversations added in, and bullet points fleshed out. Sometimes whole sections remain in bullet point form until much later revisions. Lots of madness and very little method.

    I really noticed how chaotic it all was when trying to learn short form. For Deserted Lies, I started with the first few scenes. I had no idea where it was going or what anything meant. Then a pivotal conversation (preacher). Then a couple weeks were spent figuring out how to join the dots. Then some flailing around working out how to do an ending. A few months down the line, I've (very very inefficiently) finally got a short story out of the chaos soup.



    I will add though that my final products tend to be extremely structured, sometimes rigidly so, despite all my frenetic flailing and splashing around. I think everyone does end up with structure and shape in the end, or the whole narrative won't hold together.
    Last edited by Harlequin; 10-08-2017 at 02:30 AM.
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  7. #7
    Not as sweet as you think Aggy B.'s Avatar
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    Well... finished is a relative word. I've pantsed probably half of the novels I've written. The others have some kind of outline going in. And even the pantsed ones usually have an ending chapter written before I get that far. (I don't necessarily plan for it, but part way through I'll get an idea for where I want to end up and sketch it out.)

    But, the answer is pretty much also "Fix it in post." I do not find that I can pants a novel that doesn't need revisions. (I can outline a novel that needs very few, but not every story works that way.) So, for the projects I've just written my way through, there are multiple revisions afterwards.
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  8. #8
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    Every novel I've written I've had no idea of the structure, other than a vague idea or two of key points. The ending is one, but that always changes. I just know I want to write something; a book about the end of the world from about the most limited perspective you can get. A thriller that flirts with Gothic horror. And I go from there. I abandon HUNDREDS of pages, entire sub plots, characters and little things I hate to lose. But nothing ever really goes unused.

    I end up doing what I call a 're-rack' quite a bit. I get to a point in the book, usually about halfway or so, where I realize that important points I've just discovered (plot things or character things) need to be front and center. I move them up, reorganize and I'll do this three or four times before I get a completed draft. I'll then do it another three or four before anybody reads it.
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  9. #9
    Back on Track Carrie in PA's Avatar
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    I always have massive edits because I write "light" in my first drafts. I know where I'm starting and where I'm (generally) ending, but the middle is a mystery until I start writing. I don't worry about word count at all during the first draft. In fact, I don't worry about a whole lot during the first draft. The structure happens pretty organically. I do *way* more planning for my NaNo projects, and even then it's a very loose roadmap.
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  10. #10
    Three of a perfect pair. AW Moderator amergina's Avatar
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    Back when I pantsed, I usually had an ending in mind, and a timeframe, so I knew I only had X-days (weeks, whatever) to get to that ending. Then I crammed everything in.
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  11. #11
    figuring it all out rchapman1's Avatar
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    I wish I could be more structured! I usually know the ending (but not always) and I don't have too much trouble with the beginning. Then it's a question of writing my way between the two. Sometimes I'll go back and add a whole section (maybe from one of the other character's point of view) but I sure would like to be more organised!
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  12. #12
    I want one for Christmas!! VV c.m.n.'s Avatar
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    I'm a pantser and have finished several novels. Most of the time I freewrite using ideas I gathered from the night before. However, I do scribble down my ideas. On paper. I have tons and tons of notebooks and a file cabinet full of story notes. Which makes it difficult when I forget to glance at my notes and freewrite a scene or chapter without them. I also do a lot of editing for plot, grammar, etc. It's just what works for me.

    I've tried outlining before, but usually somewhere in the story, things want to change directions and all the time spent outlining said scene is wasted. That's where simple notes, written or typed, come out handy.

    But I think everyone should try outlining at least once to see if it works. There are also several computer programs that might help organize ideas if you don't want notebooks laying around everywhere.
    Last edited by c.m.n.; 10-08-2017 at 06:45 AM.

  13. #13
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mccardey View Post
    I do this. It's not for the faint-hearted. Current WiP, at the end of the second draft, I pulled an entire plotline (32,000 words) out of a 72,000 novel. It meant I could rework the novel, which I like to do.

    Not recommended if you are planning a quick career, but a lot of fun if you just like writing stuff.

    It's a dear little novel now, explores the same ideas but much more concisely. (about 67,000 words, which my agent assures me is fine for this one.)

    It's a messy process, one that involves lots of editing and culling, not to mention multiple versions of the same novel. But it is fun. And I'm crap at outlining. Always have been. I can't even outline scientific reports. I just have to sit down with the data and a stack of background reading and notes and start chugging away.

    I often get the drive to start a novel after a character and situation has been chugging in my head for a while. I do have some scenes mapped out in my head, and a general idea of where I want the story to end up, but it's very prone to revision as I go.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 10-08-2017 at 06:47 AM.
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  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW Shoeless's Avatar
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    I've pantsed every novel I've ever written. I don't necessarily always have a clear idea of what the ending is, but there are usually certain events that kind of "light up" in the horizon of my mind, though I how the story eventually gets to those points is where all the surprise of the book comes in for me. Usually by the time I've gotten through about a quarter or half of the plot that way, the ending will have crystallized as a result of what the plot and characters have been doing so far. If I get any additional ideas for other scenes, I jot down quick one-line notes at the end of the manuscript, but otherwise, just keep going to see what the characters will do next and how it'll all turn out.

    So far I've been lucky. Aside from the usual edits to for some shaky character motivations or specific plot points, I've never had to do a major overhaul of the actual plot itself because a character or sub-plot or other element just wasn't working.

  15. #15
    figuring it all out
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    It's a messy process, one that involves lots of editing and culling, not to mention multiple versions of the same novel. But it is fun. And I'm crap at outlining. Always have been. I can't even outline scientific reports. I just have to sit down with the data and a stack of background reading and notes and start chugging away.
    This. So much this. I have trouble outlining a 3-4k words term paper for uni before I actually get to write it; I wouldn't know how to create an outline for a 100k novel.

    Once I've got my first draft, I can outline, find holes, fix holes, create more holes - the works. But before that I'd probably create an outline that lasts for about a scene before it's shot to pieces.

  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW SKDaley's Avatar
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    In revision after revision, haha. Like someone already said, it's very inefficient, but I can't outline worth a damn either. When I write the first draft, I just keep writing and hope for the best. I always start with a general idea about plot and characters, setting and background, etc. then let the ideas come as I go. I figure I can always fix things in a second draft. That's when I start worrying about structure.
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  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW CaliforniaMelanie's Avatar
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    I feel like I read somewhere that Stephen King always does this. As much as I love (some) King I just can't make it through his "This is Why I'm So Amazing" talks/writeups so I'm not 100% certain, but I could swear I've heard him say or write something to this effect. Anybody know? And if he does, does he suffer through giant rewriting chunks too?

    I have a beginning and ending in mind and some scenes for the middle but I am letting things flow a bit in between. I personally don't think I could write a book not actually knowing what the ending would be.

  18. #18
    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    I start off with a person in a very story-like situation. I write as far as I can* in the narrative voice, thinking through carefully at every step of the way. The number one thing is that I avoid as much as possible thinking about what's ahead. I focus on what has happened so far, and for what is happening 'now', under my pen, so to speak, I write things that will either will clarify the setting, motivations or what have you, or will keep things moving.

    *I often find that in the beginning I have to do a lot of extra work to answer questions like - why is the character - for example, what is this overwhelming feeling of guilt that has caused this once successful person to become a hermit? I may write a short story (not a very elegant one, one for my consumption only) that uncovers the person's past; I may also 'question and question' lists, where I ask myself questions about the possibilities, and answer those questions with more questions.

    When I get to the end I have a story that might need some edits for language, and might need something to be expanded, something to be edited, but the events are in place without logical contradictions.
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  19. #19
    Have pen, will travel Cindyt's Avatar
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    I started the first novel, a historical, with a preacher on a church porch, a shadowy female co MC, and nothing more. It evolved through editing, editing, editing and it was fun.

    The crime novel is a different matter. It has a structure that's been in place for years, but the writing itself is whatever rolls out.
    Last edited by Cindyt; 10-13-2017 at 07:57 AM.
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  20. #20
    Cat whisperer Mark HJ's Avatar
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    I have a dozen or so completed, some I knew the ending, but often I don't have a clue until it happens. The one I self-pubbed on Kindle was a 'no clue' until I was well over half way through. I did one chapter about the one-third point that I looked at as I was writing, decided it was junk, binned it and went off in a different direction. The MS had a few rounds of editing, but nothing significant got chopped or added. So far, out of my two glorious Amazon reviews, I've had a 4* and a 5*. The whole thing was about 120k.

    Over this summer I wrote a roughly 120k sequel, complete seat of the pants, with only a beginning and a very rough idea of who ended up where for the end (mostly because I have the first 5k of the book that comes after the sequel). I had a bit of a WTF moment in the middle where I had no idea how what I had could ever possibly lead to the desired ending, wrote whatever rubbish came to mind for a chapter or two... and that fixed it. It's now done as a dirty 120k draft waiting for a first-pass edit and, so far as my very critical partner was concerned, it reads OK.

    The one thing I would say is that both of these are written in 1st person, which possibly helps to keep things focused. They are also both 'crisis driven' romps, which again probably makes life easier as the story can't get bogged down too much without destroying the insane forward momentum. The second book was more challenging as there was a whole bundle of 'dodgy prophecy' and two characters inexplicably being mistaken for each other near the end, but I just seem to have the sort of head that knots all the trailing threads together on auto-pilot.

    It also takes practice. There was a thread on another writing site on plotters vs pantsers, and one of the themes that came out was once you've done a few books as a pantser, the whole plot and structure thing tends to come more smoothly - like any craft, it improves with practice.

    As for outlining being inevitable - if you're a pantser that's the road to hell. If you're not a pantser, go do that outline. If, as often seems to be the case, you're a bit of both, than plot and pants as the need takes you. I would strongly advise trying both, or whatever combination takes your fancy. All of my attempts to plot were disasters, but if you don't try the alternative, you don't know.

    Whether plotted or pantsed, I would suggest getting feedback from a beta reader - I've written stuff I thought was great, only to have my partner tell me it's **** and give reasons, and equally I've had stuff I had doubts about and she loved it. Either way, you need some feedback that didn't start in your own head.

    Finally... good luck!
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  21. #21
    I got it covered Undercover's Avatar
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    I'm a pantser, all the way. But sometimes I do get stuck as to where the story is going and sometimes write an outline. I always veer off the outline though, and do my own thing. But it usually gets me out of a tight block, so the outline can serve it's purpose, even to pantsers.

  22. #22
    Cat whisperer Mark HJ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curlz View Post
    Pantsing is a thing, some people just write and see where it goes. When I do it, it goes all over the place!
    Another thought just occurred to me: you seem to be finding writing a novel really heavy going. Yup. That's the way it is. Plotter or pantser, writing is really, really difficult. It takes time, effort and practice, and there are no magic tricks or shortcuts. Yes, there are techniques, and no end of (frequently contradictory) advice, but ultimately the only way to improve your writing is to keep working at it, asking other writers how they do it (OK, you're here, you already got that bit), and then figuring out what works for you.

    You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince. Unless you're very lucky, or naturally outstandingly talented, you have to write a lot of **** before you turn out a decent novel.
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  23. #23
    practical experience, FTW Maze Runner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curlz View Post
    I've tried not planning ahead. It was for a NaNo, but it doesn't matter. Pantsing is a thing, some people just write and see where it goes. When I do it, it goes all over the place! There is too much introduction and build-up. Then I find myself 3/4 through the wordcount without a culmination point in sight.
    There's a chance that what I'm about to say will be totally off the mark, so take it that way and throw it away if it doesn't immediately resonate--I definitely don't want to derail you, but I think you should continue just as you are until you write The End. I don't think writing a first draft long and wide, and with a lot of depth, is necessarily a bad thing. The first book I wrote, and I'm pretty happy with it, was almost 175,000 words in its first draft. It ended up to be 99. But I found a lot of gold by just letting myself go without any restraints. (I didn't know any better.) And I learned a lot about pacing and structuring and voice, etc.

    If this is your first book this could be your subconscious way of learning the craft. I didn't realize at the time, at least not for a long while, but that's what mine was for me. Just something to consider. Maybe you'll know right away if this makes any sense for you. Best.​

  24. #24
    Evil and sparkly tiddlywinks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by joeyc View Post
    Like blacbird, I had the ending in place. I also had a few set-pieces I wanted to do, like a train robbery. So it's essentially playing connect the dots.
    This is me to a T. I've finished four novels this way, working on the fifth. And each time it's easier (except for this last time when I tried to write in a linear fashion. Muse was having none of that.)

    I usually know the ending, major scenes, and enough about my characters to have a good film reel going in my head. I start fairly linear, writing out the first fourth or so of the novel. Then I start jumping to where the characters are talking (again, often tends to be major scenes) and fill in the blanks. If anything, I get stuck for a bit around the climax sometimes, figuring out how that goes to pull off the overall tone I'm going for in the novel.

    It's almost always fun, and my characters often surprise me!

    Quote Originally Posted by c.m.n. View Post
    I do scribble down my ideas. On paper. I have tons and tons of notebooks and a file cabinet full of story notes. <snip > There are also several computer programs that might help organize ideas if you don't want notebooks laying around everywhere.
    I also do A LOT of this. Both in notebooks and in OneNote. Especially for series related ideas.

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  25. #25
    is watching you via her avatar jjdebenedictis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CaliforniaMelanie View Post
    I feel like I read somewhere that Stephen King always does this. As much as I love (some) King I just can't make it through his "This is Why I'm So Amazing" talks/writeups so I'm not 100% certain, but I could swear I've heard him say or write something to this effect. Anybody know? And if he does, does he suffer through giant rewriting chunks too?
    In his book On Writing, King says he just puts characters in a situation and sees where it goes. He goes back later to edit things, but given what I've read of his work, I don't think he cuts enough.

    He also advises writers to never outline, saying it kills the scene dead on the page, but that's nonsense. It depends on the person; there is no one right way to write a book. (Personally, I can't pants; if I don't know what's supposed to be in a scene, I wind up staring in frustration at a blank page. I must outline.)
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