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

  1. #26
    practical experience, FTW neandermagnon's Avatar
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    I never outline. There's no point for me because when I actually start writing, the story/characters want to go in a different direction to the outline anyway. Regarding structure - I keep in mind where the story's at with regards to whether more stuff needs to happen or I need more action or whatever, and throw that in as necessary. It starts with a character in a situation and ends with some kind of resolution. I don't know what the exact resolution is until I get there but start to have some idea along the way. Also, sometimes the end result is obvious from the beginning (if a character has a specific problem, then the resolution of that problem is the end) but exactly how the character gets there and solves the problem isn't clear until I get there.

    Also, I'm constantly rereading and editing what I've written to make sure that the next scene follows on naturally and also that everything's moving in the right direction and not going off on a massive tangent (small tangents are okay). I tried moving the story forward more and rereading less (following advice to get x amount of new words written each day) and the result was a mess that's going to take some major fixing (but fixing is what I'll do, even if I have to rewrite stuff to fix it). I need to keep on rereading and editing as I go, fixing issues as I come across them (or marking them for fixing/destruction if I can't think how to fix it right then). I don't write a whole first draft then fix the whole thing. I write, reread and edit on a scene by scene basis and doing as much reading back as I need to to keep it all coherent. Usually, by the time I get to the end, 99% of the editing's already done. IMO this method of editing works well with pantsing. It's also something to consider for writers who get overwhelmed by the idea of fixing an entire first draft (whether plotters or pantsers).

    I have one WIP where I wrote about 150,000 words (forgot the exact number but it's in that order of magnitude) of amorphous, structureless mess but I didn't set out writing it with any plot or structure in mind and was writing it purely for my own amusement. It didn't really get to the end and could've gone on for way longer but I realised that it would make a good story that other people would like if I rewrote it with a bit of structure, and also there's a load of really good ideas, already developed characters and good dialogue in the original that I'm cherrypicking to include in the rewrite. It was a good exercise and character and idea development. I'm enjoying rewriting it. I wouldn't be able to edit the original into anything coherent so it had to be a rewrite with cherry picking, and if I'm honest, there's way more rewriting than cherrypicking.
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  2. #27
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    I usually pants a first exploration draft and then outline what I've written. Then I can stand back and see what a mess I have to play with.

    The next draft is a slightly more coherent exploration that starts to focus instead of splash around. I do a ton of notetaking and thinking after this draft, and update the outline.

    The third draft is where the thing starts to look like a story that might hang together. The plot holes get smaller, the characters deeper and more motivated, the central focus clearer. After this draft, I outline in detail to work out where I can simplify, deepen and fill holes.

    So in general, I outline *after* the drafts to see what I have, not just to plan where I'm going. If I write an outline before I write a draft of the book, I end up with hackneyed plots and characters pushed into situations that aren't natural to them because I don't know them yet. All the character spreadsheets in the world won't get me to know them. Writing does. Since my stories are deeply character-oriented, I have to write first and then find the natural structure afterward.

  3. #28
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Basically made sure that the story continuously unfolded and that what happened was either prompted by or connected to whatever had happened before. It was exciting and enjoyable to write but it sometimes took days to figure out what happened next. The final chapter came to mind en route and was written long before I knew how the characters were going to get there. I have since edited out 50,000 words but the basic structure has remained the same.

    Is it finished? Not quite- the dreaded perfect opening still eludes me---aaaaarrrggghhh!
    Last edited by Bufty; 10-13-2017 at 01:22 PM.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  4. #29
    cutsie-pie Curlz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Atlantic12 View Post
    I usually pants a first exploration draft and then outline what I've written. .
    Like all great discoveries, this is so simple and yet I haven't thought about it myself! In my mind pantsing and outlining are two separate things, like if I put them together the MS would disappear in a puff of smoke, or something

    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    Basically made sure that the story continuously unfolded and that what happened was either prompted by or connected to whatever had happened before. It was exciting and enjoyable to write -----
    And that's the road to the 300 000 word manuscript .I bet in the olden days they never had that problem because paper must have been expensive and the typewriter keys made your fingers tired. But it's soooo easy to keep clicking away nowadays.

  5. #30
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Only if you let it get away from you - and to justify that high a word count you'd better have a darned good story to boot.




    Quote Originally Posted by Curlz View Post
    And that's the road to the 300 000 word manuscript .I bet in the olden days they never had that problem because paper must have been expensive and the typewriter keys made your fingers tired. But it's soooo easy to keep clicking away nowadays.
    Last edited by Bufty; 10-13-2017 at 02:47 PM.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  6. #31
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    I'm an low-writer, and require outlines to fill out the bones. Pantsing leaves me with a skeletal MS!

    Restructuring and outlining has lifted my first MS from 90k to 96k, and I'd like to hit 98 to smooth out those transitions and fill a few char/plot blanks. Sometimes I'm barebones on description as well, when I can't afford to skip them, so if I can add a little more and hit 100k overall that'll be useful.
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  7. #32
    practical experience, FTW SciSarahTops's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    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 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.
    Yes, me too to both of these^^^

    Quote Originally Posted by Aggy B. View Post
    But, the answer is pretty much also "Fix it in post."
    Agreed here too.


    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    I'm an low-writer, and require outlines to fill out the bones. Pantsing leaves me with a skeletal MS!
    Sometimes I'm barebones on description as well,
    This was what happened to me. I pantsed a fairly structured novel and had to fill in stuff like description, setting, and quite often emotion later on. I'm still going. It's taken me ages. I haven;t done it another way so I don't know if I would be quicker with an outline first. That's what I'm trying next.
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  8. #33
    practical experience, FTW CaliforniaMelanie's Avatar
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    What is the definition of pantsting as used here? I see some people saying they did have a basic idea...is there some format for this?

    I know what my beginning and ending will be (the ending was my initial thought/point so I didn't design it this way, it just happened like this...I need a whole point or else I really don't know what I'm doing or WHY I'm writing) and I have a bunch of ideas for what happens to build to the middle. I also have a few "here's the basic idea" sentences on buildup scenes. I don't have an official outline, I wouldn't say. I don't know how the chapters will pan out or anything and there are big gaps. Would this be classified as pantsting?

  9. #34
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    I guess it varies to a degree, but I regard it as simply starting to type with maybe a character and a situation, and seeing what appears on the page. En route things usually tend to become clearer but, to my mind at least, there's no prearranged or lengthy fixed path for the character to tread. In other words there's no manual or pad that says- Chap1 this and Chap 2 this and Chap 3 this etc..
    Everything yields to treatment.

  10. #35
    practical experience, FTW Maze Runner's Avatar
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    There used to be a guy on here JamesA_______, who swore he never even took a peek at the road ahead. He gave a lot of great advice, but I've never been able to resist the temptation. I guess that means I'm not a pure pantser, but I believe there is such a thing.

  11. #36
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maze Runner View Post
    There used to be a guy on here JamesA_______, who swore he never even took a peek at the road ahead. He gave a lot of great advice, but I've never been able to resist the temptation. I guess that means I'm not a pure pantser, but I believe there is such a thing.
    If by pure pantser you mean doesn't know the ending until the last second and their fingers hit the keys - I don't think they exist. The real ending will become clearer as one progresses. It has to, and is usually based upon what has so far been written, unless you want to find yourself writing a never-ending soap opera.
    Last edited by Bufty; 10-13-2017 at 08:50 PM.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  12. #37
    practical experience, FTW CaliforniaMelanie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    If by pure pantser you mean doesn't know the ending until the last second and their fingers hit the keys - I don't think they exist. The real ending will become clearer as one progresses. It has to, and is usually based upon what has so far been written, unless you want to find yourself writing a never-ending soap opera.
    That's how I feel about it, but I tend to write this entirely backward from the "don't know the ending yet until point X" idea (i.e. I know the ending first, generally...I don't write it, it's just that it, or a little before the literal, actual ending, is the point...I am this way about articles too).

    Even when I really have no idea what the "meat" will entail, I tend to take a fatalistic view in writing: everything that happens leads up to an ultimate point. Therefore, when I know that point, everything else starts flowing quite easily.
    Last edited by CaliforniaMelanie; 10-13-2017 at 09:52 PM.

  13. #38
    practical experience, FTW Cekrit's Avatar
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    I write in 5ths.

    I start any piece by writing the Premise 1/5, climax 3/5, and conclusion 5/5.

    Then I write two scenes or sprees in between. the Journey/build up 2/5 and the search for a solution 4/5.

    Everything in between i allow myself to free roam and grow as needed, so long as the beginning and end is between my two points.
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  14. #39
    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curlz View Post
    And that's the road to the 300 000 word manuscript
    hmm - I think it all depends on how you're going about it - *and* particularly if what you add is the logical outcome of what went before, that helps keep things to word count that matches the story.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maze Runner View Post
    There used to be a guy on here JamesA_______, who swore he never even took a peek at the road ahead. He gave a lot of great advice, but I've never been able to resist the temptation.
    Ah, JamesA_____... Gave some helpful advice on the one hand, but could be very dismissive and discouraging on the other...

    I actually caught him in what seemed to me like some contradictions*, but -- it could have been just the way he explained himself on a given day. Also, for me, at least, when I consider what's happened before, and what might happen next because of that - there are multiple possibilities, and I might consider, forex, which will make more or better complications, choice A or B -

    *Never bothered calling him out on it, what would it have been worth - but it made me take some of his claims with a little bit of salt.
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  15. #40
    practical experience, FTW Maze Runner's Avatar
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    Yeah, I always try to boil it down to choice (a) or (b), too. And I always slow down or come to a complete stop when I'm at that fork in the road. The early choices are the most important, I think--it's like choosing a freeway versus choosing a surface street.

  16. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maze Runner View Post
    Yeah, I always try to boil it down to choice (a) or (b), too. And I always slow down or come to a complete stop when I'm at that fork in the road. The early choices are the most important, I think--it's like choosing a freeway versus choosing a surface street.
    I agree, especially the early choices early in the book! The first quarter or so of a story is where the foundation gets built. If that's not solid, there are problems ahead...

  17. #42
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    If by pure pantser you mean doesn't know the ending until the last second and their fingers hit the keys - I don't think they exist. The real ending will become clearer as one progresses. It has to, and is usually based upon what has so far been written, unless you want to find yourself writing a never-ending soap opera.
    --Or ending the story with a Deus Ex Machina, disregarding the logical conclusions of the story so far.

    Quote Originally Posted by Atlantic12 View Post
    I agree, especially the early choices early in the book! The first quarter or so of a story is where the foundation gets built. If that's not solid, there are problems ahead...
    This. If the first quartile isn't tight, you'll feel the story threads unravel against your will later on, and not in a fun pantsing sort of way.

    I've tried both methods, but I find that the most efficient for me at the moment is around %60 outlining. Without sacrificing all the fun of writing, I give myself plot milestones throughout the story--important predetermined moments/scenes that most stories require to move plot along at key intervals (ie: inciting incident, the decision, 1st and 2nd plot points, midpoint and maybe some pinch points around it, and the climax). With those 7-8 beacons set in the path, I can then roam, always knowing I'll eventually have to pass through those planned moments.

    At any point in the story you have a short-term destination, something you are writing towards, so writer's block is mostly bypassed this way, your story will feel much tighter plot-wise, you'll most likely need less re-writes, and you'll still get to roam through the pages in between plot points. Also, knowing big plot moments beforehand allows you to foreshadow accordingly and add subtext, something pantsed drafts struggle with and later on must rework into the story. Just my personal experience.

  18. #43
    practical experience, FTW HarvesterOfSorrow's Avatar
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    Although I'm a pantser, I don't really start writing a novel the second I get an idea. I very rarely make any notes before starting a novel, but I do think about the story a lot. I don't start writing the first draft until the story can stand on its own two legs. It may not be able to walk yet, but it can stand up. I've probably thought of an ending, or some element I know I want to include in the ending. My method is a little like what Dennis Lehane says about his own writing: He knows something about the beginning, something about the middle, and something about the end. It's the pages and the story elements in between he now has to figure out when he sits down to write each and every morning.

    I also have to feel confident about an idea. Good ideas come back to you, like a boomerang. Bad ones fly away and never come back. If the story keeps coming back to me, keeps talking to me, there's likely a reason why and I have to do some digging as to what that reason is. So, I write. And more often than not, I come to an end. The magic to satisfaction, I suppose, comes with the gruelling task of editing, re-writing, and polishing. Stripping away the layers until you've got a well-oiled machine that you can show to others with confidence.

    So, I guess I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't plot things out beat-for-beat. I don't do character sketches, chapter breakdowns, or any rule book I have to follow. At least not yet. I feel certain stories---if not all stories---have to be told a different way, merely because each story has its own soul. So some may be more thought-out than others, simply by complexity, world-building, intersecting family trees, or whatever the case may be. But I do have some sense of the story I want to tell and I let them wander around after much thinking and contemplation. And if they wander a place I find unfit for the character, story, or the reader, it gets cut and altered in the following draft.

    Good luck and keep going. You'll get there. Most of us do.
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  19. #44
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    Writing is, for me, a journey of discovery. I figure out what my story is by hashing it out. Once I've finished the first draft and have more of a sense of the overall shape, then I can fine tune it and produce a more polished product.

    Or in other words, I am an archaeologist. I know that there is something buried under all this rock and I have a guess as to what it looks like, but I need to take my little pick and brush, and clear the rock away, so I have a better idea as to what I've found.

  20. #45
    Derailed WriteMinded'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. 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?
    There are degrees of pantsing. None of us do it the same way. I've always believed that if only I had a detailed outline, I would zoom through the first draft in a happy, stress-free week. Since I've never been able to construct one, it takes me a year, much of which is spent digging myself out of frustrating wrong turns or dead ends. My first novel necessitated moving the MC from Wales to the center of Britain, but he had to get there by going far north and then south where the Deathstar waited. Sounds easy, but it wasn't, and I rewrote that section more times than I remember. If I'd had that all worked out ahead of time, I could have breezed on through, but no, massive reworking.

    Just thinking the word outline fills me with anxiety. I'm sure getting one on paper would take me a year. And then what would happen when I encounter one of those inspirational moments when you instinctively take a side trip that you realize is absolutely essential to your story? Then I'd be rewriting my outline. Can't win. I am what I am.

    The only advice I can offer is to not worry about your word count until later. It is a wonderful feeling to get through the last chapter and write The End. By then you should have a feel for what needs to go, what needs to be revised, and what needs to be pampered and fed.

  21. #46
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin insolentlad's Avatar
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    As soon as I start writing, even without any plan whatsoever, ideas and questions start crowding in. I jot them down and know what? An outline of sorts takes form. Just unavoidable for me.

  22. #47
    Aerospace engineer turned writer Laer Carroll's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WriteMinded View Post
    There are degrees of pantsing. None of us do it the same way.
    I've read a lot of interviews with pro writers, and that certainly seems to be the case. Most of them, and us, use a combination of improv and planning.

    Mystery and sci-fi writer John D. MacDonald, for instance, outlined the entire book. But only the first third in detail because the characters soon came alive and went their own way toward the goal that they'd started toward. He outlined the middle third very loosely, and the last not at all. Of that last he only had a rough idea of what he wanted the characters to try to achieve.

    SF/fantasy writer Lois McMaster Bujold, I gather from her interviews, only has a very rough idea of where her books are going to end, and very little of how. She outlines the first three or so chapters, but improvises them when she begins writing. She enjoys discovering the story as she writes it, and would have no fun knowing everything in advance.

    You can get too caught trying to fit everything in a model, but as an improviser I find useful the classical one described by Aristotle so I have some idea where my snippets go in the overall arc of the story. I modified it for a couple of books, because they were made up of several shorter stories, each with their own story arc. (Example: a new FBI agent is given several ever-tougher cases to work).

    A footnote: I usually start with the trigger ("inciting") incident. Or sometimes AFTER it, in the middle of the story.



  23. #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by HarvesterOfSorrow View Post

    I also have to feel confident about an idea. Good ideas come back to you, like a boomerang. Bad ones fly away and never come back. If the story keeps coming back to me, keeps talking to me, there's likely a reason why and I have to do some digging as to what that reason is. So, I write.
    This is me too. I have lots of ideas, but I have to let them percolate, sometimes for years while I work on other things, before I know which one is going to rise to the surface. The book I'm working on now (my second "real" book after many, many floppy attempts at novels) is from an idea I first had in late 2013. I poked at it now and then while working on my first book, but only just this year got down to focusing on the second. And at the same time, my third book idea -- parts of it originally from 2012! -- has also crystallized to the point where I *know* it'll be the next thing I work on. I guess this is just multiple projects in various stages of development, perfectly normal. But the important thing is to let an idea simmer if it needs it so you know if you'll stick with it down the road. It's a different topic than pantsing or outlining except that I do take some notes and try out some sequences on paper (a bit like outlining) while I'm developing a possible story.

  24. #49
    practical experience, FTW EmilyEmily's Avatar
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    I don't know!

    But now that I am editing, I see plot holes, and I'll be adding elements to fill these as I go. I imagine plotters don't have this issue.

  25. #50
    Derailed WriteMinded's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EmilyEmily View Post
    I don't know!

    But now that I am editing, I see plot holes, and I'll be adding elements to fill these as I go. I imagine plotters don't have this issue.
    I doubt that is true.

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