There’s a huge debate in the writing community whether or not having a very detailed plot outline is invaluable or a waste of time. Does it really make a book better? There’s a new story idea I’ve been toying around with and so I’d considered plotting out my next manuscript.
With my last one, I sort of had to do a super light outline because I had multiple POVs and a dual timeline. But it was the second book in a duology, and so I already knew the characters. It’s a lot different if you’re writing out a series and you already know the characters, the storyline, and kind of know what he/she would do next. It’s a lot harder to start from scratch when you are simply going off of a brand new idea that you haven’t quite fleshed out.
Some writers are detailed plotters and prefer it this way. I’ve never really been a hard-core plotter. Even with my last manuscript, I had semi-plotted it out. It was more one-liner/scene ideas/concepts.
Simple Beats/Scenes Example For Multiple POV: Here’s an uber lame-level type of breakdown that you can try if you struggle with detailed outlines. This is an example from my last manuscript (thriller/police procedural.)
- Chapter 1 – Intro to MC (Killer POV)
- Chapter 2 – Killer hunting victim one (Killer POV)
- Chapter 3 – Killer kills victim one (Killer POV)
- Chapter 4 – Intro to Detective (Detective POV)
Should Non-Plotters Try To Force Ourselves To Plot?
I don’t really consider the above an “outline” or even a plot. I tend to write out beats. I did do a very detailed character sketch of my central characters and I think that helped. But is heavy plotting better than flying by the seat of our pants? I’m not really sure what the correct answer is, to be honest. I know of several authors that swear by software like Scrivener. There is also a writing tool called Plottr. I’ve actually downloaded both and have played around with free trials.
What is my verdict on either tool?
Plottr actually gives you story templates to follow. I know there are books out there that tell you that you must plot and that it makes for a better story. I guess it depends on each writer/aspiring author/author. We’re all so different and unique. Plottr is good for building your characters. I did like following their character-building questions. Their plot templates really helped me to think about what should come next in my story, but at the same time, my ADD brain found itself switching between templates. This became confusing to me. Because there are several types of templates, and they all tell you different things. Instead of inspiring me to quickly fill out a story outline, I found myself dizzy, discombobulated, and more unsure than ever in terms of what plot should go next. Plottr is also very glitchy and has a few bugs that the software still needs to work out.
Now, about Scrivener. For some reason, there are tons of writers that love Scrivener. I’ve opened it, and the interface turns me off. I’ve tried to meander my way through, but I found the program very dry and too left brain for me. It literally hurts my head. So, I actually didn’t give it as much of a fair shake as I did Plottr. Sorry, Scrivener fans!
My verdict on plotting, I’m not really a huge fan of hard-core plots and I’m not a fan of plotting/writing software either. I’m a Word Doc gal.
Scenes & Beats For The Pantser
If you’re the “Fuck an outline!” type, then I do think having some sort of general direction is never a bad thing. I honestly believe that the story, character, circumstance, and genre are all qualifying factors. Some stories just come super easy to us. They can come to us in a very vivid way. Other times, you’ve got a vague concept and a general idea of who the character is. Regardless, I’m a firm believer in working with what you do know.
Start With A Character Sketch: Do you know who your character is? Have you done a character sketch? I like to start with the character. I always build out the character first. Do a bio of them. Get their names, age, upbringing, profession, ethnicity, idiosyncrasies, and other such details down. Build out their personality and get their voice down. Heck, get a picture of who they are. Try Googling people you might think fits your character(s). I just did my own personal “casting call” of all of my central characters with pictures, along with a breakdown of their general bio/information. When I started doing this, I was like, holy shit – this part is flowing very easy for me. Which leads me to my next point.
Write Out Beats You Do Know: Again, start with what you know. This is especially imperative if you’re suffering from depression, anxiety, any other life stressors getting in the way (like being a new mom), or good ol’ writer’s block. Writer’s block can suck, especially when you have an idea, but you’re sort of stuck. Get unstuck by working out those beats you know for sure you need to hit. There must be scenes you do know your character needs to be involved in. Once you’ve done a good character sketch, the characters tend to lead the way and the action can follow easier.
Make Your Scene List One-Liners: When you list out any scenes/beats, try making them as uncomplicated as humanly possible. Try to do simple one-liners. When you force yourself to write down simple one-liners/less than a Tweet type of quick beat, it might actually start jogging things and getting the ideas flowing.
The Bottom Line
I’m not at all an expert at plotting. If you ask me whether I’m a plotter or a pantser, I’ll tell you that I’m somewhere in the middle. Each writer is different. We all have our own writing and editing process. I think it can be fun and perfectly okay to try different approaches. If you’re a pantser, give a light outline/beat sheet a shot. If you’re a plotter, you might try to take a stab at freestyle writing without a spreadsheet! Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in the middle? Regardless of how you write your story, there is no wrong answer.