Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Panster And The Editorial Road Map

STATUS: A lovely lovely spring day. I’ll work for a bit and then simply enjoy the day.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WHY by Annie Lennox

As a writer, are you a panster or an outliner?

I ask because your answer determines when you’d assemble the road map of your novel.

If you are a panster, don’t attempt the road map until you have finished a full draft and at least one revision.

Why? Because if you do it too early, the process of outlining can suck the creative spark or essence of storytelling right out of your project.

I’ve seen it happen with several of my clients who are not intrinsic outliners. It is simply not how their creative process works and the process of doing so dampens the story voice.

But eventually, once the story is down on paper (or should I say computer screen) then I highly recommend the road map. It reveals, very clearly, the bones of the story.

More importantly, it also reveals what is structurally weak in the plot.

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31 Responses

  1. J.W. Dumas said:

    Kristin, just like a real-life outing, the journey is often times more interesting than the final destination. As such, I only draw up the ‘road map’ after my 3rd or 4th revision, concentrating on interesting side trips and other characters I meet along the way (as long as they are important to the plot).
    Love the blog, keep it coming. Quite a few of us out there gather in as much info as you have to offer.
    Thanks again,

  2. Anonymous said:

    Great tip. To me it’s all about the story, so I mull the story arc over a lot before beginning. I don’t write the storyline out though. It’s like starting out on a East to West cross-country road trip without a AAA triptych. But I know where I’m trying to get in the end. What happens on the journey is another thing. I get sidetracked by an intriguing little town off the interstate, or decide to bypass the Grand Canyon. After that, all bets are off.

  3. Rachel said:

    I’m more favorable to Discovery Writer. I do this less now than a few years ago. It used to be I’d write wherever my characters took me and more than once ended up in a Doomed World where it was absolutely impossible to give a satisfactory end to the book. Since then I tend to mull over where it’s going and have a general idea where I want to take it (though this too often changes).
    The roadmap is a good way to make sure you don’t get too far off track, though as Kristin said at least one revision should be given so you don’t lose the creative vibe.

  4. Juturna F. said:

    Both? Neither? More like an outliner who then trashes her outline every ten minutes and then writes the story as it should be written, causing another outline to be ‘written.’ There’s always an outline in my head (I killed too many trees trying to write them out!), but it’s constantly under revision as the story shifts.

    So I guess that makes me panster with delusions of plotting.

  5. Marie Andreas said:

    I am an extreme panster (maybe I can get a Mountain Dew sport commercial for “extreme pansting?” ;)).

    I grab some amazing characters, then we take off and run. I do get frustrated sometimes with the amount of re-writing involved in my style, but at the same time, so many wonderful things have happened in my stories that I never could have planned (ok, not so wonderful for my characters, but good to read ;)).

    I think I will always be this way, as for me the joy is in the journey- I figure if I can’t wait to see what happens next, hopefully the reader can’t wait either.

    That being said- a road map would be a VERY helpful thing during the re-write/editing process.

  6. P A Wilson said:

    I’m an outliner and I do the road map at least 2x. Outlining is the first – I tweak it as I write the first draft. The second is what I call a story revision. I go through and do as you suggest; ask what each scene does for the story/characters and fill in blank spots and take out what isn’t working.
    Then I write draft 1.5. That’s the draft I revise (times whatever it takes) and polish.
    great advice.

  7. Misha Gericke said:

    I’m a pantser that writes everything by hand for the first draft. Once that’s done, I set up a road-map before starting the rewrite, converting the story to a computer-read format.

    The reason why I did this: it’s the only way I can improve the story I’d written. Without the map, I’d just come up with more versions similar to the original, but not the same, so there wouldn’t be an improvement.

  8. Joseph Ramirez said:

    Pantser, as far as I know. 🙂 Still learning. But it is incredibly useful to make the roadmap once the book is ‘done’. It helps, not just with subsequent drafts, but with writing the dreaded query letter and synopsis. Holy cow. I don’t know how I would have written an intelligent summary without it.

  9. Angela Brown said:

    I’ve tried pantsing and tried outlining bur found that a nice middle ground works best for me. A nice skeleton to give me a little bit of direction but nothing tight and restraining because I know my characters may have a few detours in mind.

  10. Teagan Marie said:

    Pantser for sure. Then after first draft I tread more carefully, although sometimes even the best plans need alterations. I’m glad there’s a name for it ^.^

  11. Elissa M said:

    I’m a pantser, but I’m going to try to have at least a vague outline for my next novel. It kills me to cut out all the great scenes my characters force me to write. Better if I don’t write them in the first place.

  12. Daisy Carter said:

    I’m some weird hybrid, but I’m learning I lean towards pantster. I tried to force a recent wip to form from outline, and it’s ruined the story for me. But I tend to see the plot coming as I get to know my characters. When I do, I write with more purpose.

  13. Sierra Gardner said:

    I agree with Daisy – I’m some odd combination of the two. I usually just write down an outline of scenes or basic points, look for flaws and then proceed to write. My biggest problem comes when I try to outline every detail of the story. That does suck all of the creativity out of me!

  14. Bonnee Crawford said:

    If I’m writing for the pure fun of it, I’m a panster. If I’m writing with the intention to share my work with the wider world – whether published as a book or just uploaded to a random internet site – then I’ll outline the narrative. Is that pretty standard or…?

  15. Margaret M. Fisk said:

    I started as a pantser and it took years to finish a first draft. Then I expanded a novella into a novel in a crazy two weeks and developed an “outline” process that worked for me without realizing it.

    It wasn’t until a couple years ago when I realized that what I called an outline was a very rough first draft written often out of order in Excel that I then sorted, cleaned up, and expanded into my “first draft.” What this, and teaching other writers, has taught me is that people are either drawn to or repelled by the word outline, but whether they organize things in their heads as they write or map it out into plot, character, emotion, etc. sections, writers find ways to gain an understanding of the shape of their novel. And yes, some do it before, some after, some during, but I see developing the ability to create this road map as an important step in the journey to a consistently productive writer.

  16. Leona said:

    Yes. Exactly! I’ve been saying that to my plotter friends who shake their heads at my denial of their creative organized genius.

    But I’m not denying their genius, just saying it doesn’t work for me. I’ve done a synopsis, outline, etc. thinking it was how “real writers” do it. But those stories, they haven’t been written.

    I have a novel right now, for a small press I’ve done shorts for, which I’m working on. I had to write a synopsis, answer questions from the editorial team, and by then? I was bored with the story. Lost my voice had to put the synopsis away and JUST WRITE. Now I’m 55k into it. It’s going much better. I’ll go through in the revision and make sure I did what’s needed to be done according to the approved synopsis, but until then… What synopsis? LOL

    Thanks again!!

  17. Ann Stewart said:

    I write until I get completely and utterly stuck, then I revise and outline, so I guess that means I’m a panster, though I’m delving into the world of outlining first now that I’m writing my first “official” outline. I can see where it will make writing the book easier, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it if I haven’t gotten some of the story down first. Often times, I don’t know where the story is going until my characters tell me.

  18. cwilson284 said:

    I am a total outliner. I write traditional puzzle cozies, and can’t imagine not having a full scene-by-scene outline with estimated word count and clue plantings. When I count the scenes and have an estimated word count of 60,000 I’ll start my draft. Inevitably I’ll revise it about half way through, usually to do what another commenter said about stabilizing chapters, usually a few “sequels” that need to be added in order for the reader to know how the main character is feeling. My estimates are fairly accurate. I’m writing book three in my series this way, and can do up to 2,500 words a day when I’m drafting. Then when the draft is done I start examining the internal scene structure to make sure it works, has some kind of conflict, and adds to the overall arc.

  19. May Myers said:

    I learned the hard way that I can’t let myself go too far without a road map. Though pansting is fun for the first couple chapters, it gets progressively more difficult for me to keep writing without having my world, characters, and plot line set up as a guide. I forget things, ramble, or find that all I’m doing is writing scenes, not a story. With the outline in place, I can start dropping hints early on, revealing backstory and whatnot naturally instead of all at once when I realize I need it.

    At the same time, I don’t think a writer should be afraid to deviate from the outline if they end up writing things that don’t feel right. I’ve seen friends get some awful blocks from that.

  20. lemon said:

    Oh I was a panster with my first novel and I zipped right through it. I’m on my second and I’ve got outlines, maps, etc and it’s taking me forever. I don’t even want to mention the serious block I have with this story. A part of me wants the story to write itself so I’m throwing away the map for now. That may change as the story progresses.

  21. Amy said:

    Pants-ed it all the way through my first novel, but plotted my second (which I’m currently working on) and I think I’m in love with drawing the road map first!

  22. Laurie said:

    A bit of both, so far. I start with an outline, and I have to know the ending, but I discover a great deal as I write the first draft, even without deviating much from the outline.

    On the current story, I did a road map between the first and second drafts, and while writing the second draft, I’m trying filling out a detailed spreadsheet keeping track of the different characters so I can follow their arcs for the final polishing draft.

  23. MOMentum said:

    I’m a middle-of-the-roadster. With my first novel, I outlined extensively. Writing it turned out to be grueling and the end product was lifeless. Technically fine, but not interesting even for me. With my second novel I started writing with only a basic idea of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to say. Mostly I needed to prove I could actually write a novel with small kids in the house. Loved the process and the end product, but when I workshopped it I got feedback that not enough happens. I needed to raise the stakes. Now I’m starting a third novel with the same characters, setting etc of my second novel and I’ve put more thought into the skeleton of the plot in advance. Here’s hoping the third time is the charm!

  24. Alison Pearce Stevens said:

    I love this tip. I wound up doing it with the novel I just finished, simply to keep track of the timing of events, and it really helped me see the story arc. Sadly, I waited until I was about five revisions in before I did so. I think I’ll try making a road map after I finish the first revision of my current WIP. Maybe I won’t need quite so many revisions, that way!

  25. Alana Roberts said:

    My first (drawer) novel was a character-centered story. I wrote it on the fly. Easy. My next is a comedy of manners more or less and since it borrows heavily from the conventions of musical theater it has intricate twists and turns that need to be planned in advance. It’s agonizing. I;d like to theorize that panster = character based and outliner = plot based.

  26. Laura Kreitzer said:

    Sadly, I had to learn this the hard way last year. The only parts of my novels I outline before writing is my in depth character developmental sheets and the world-building.

    By the way, it was nice meeting you today at the RT convention! I hope to run into you some more before you leave on Friday.

  27. Stephanie [Luxe Boulevard] said:

    I am a total panster. I feel incredibly detached from my characters and my story if I lay them out, one bullet point after another. I have to “feel” them as I go. Yes, it does tend to make for more revisions, but so worth it!

  28. Beth said:

    I’m a pantster. Outlining and pre-planning kills the urge to write for me. But I don’t write in complete drafts, either. I revise as I go, so when I reach the end, I’m pretty much done, except for some fine-tuning.

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