Plotting and Outlining for Pantsers

For those of us who write by the seat of our pants, outlining is not part of our skill set. I can only speak from my personal experience, though communicating with other pantsers indicates to me that I am not alone in my allergy to outlining. When I begin a novel I don’t know enough about my characters or my story arc. Characters do not come into my head full blown. I have to get to know them. Consequently, my rough draft runs to 95,000 words before I have any idea who my main character is or what their story includes.

I admit this is a personal failing and I hope for some empathy from my readers.

My source for what I am about to write is The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray. I list it as my source below with relevant detail. I am using this book in attempting to get my ‘mud pie’ into something resembling a story. I’m not sure a Master of Arts degree would help me shovel against this tide.

Robert J. Ray uses the theater’s three act format to build a novel. The works of film writers and other novelists illustrate his method of breaking down the structure of the novel.

Any writer knows about the beginning, the middle and the ending. Most of us have heard of the ‘mushy middle’ where nothing of significance seems to happen between the set-up and the climax. I know my tendency is to concentrate on the first page, trying to get a possible agent to go to the second page before throwing the first five or ten pages across the room. I would love to entertain a reader willing to invest money in my work to remain interested enough to read the entire bloody thing. Competing against blockbuster movies and addictive video games makes one wonder why we even try. It helps to believe a novel is an art form in its own right.

The Weekend Novelist is not a panacea, but it gives some insight into the art of coordinating a rambling sequence of vicious aerial ballets as the Soviet Army marches across the Ukraine against a steadily weakening Luftwaffe into a story of a young woman facing devastation, death, and deprivation, and growing in mental strength and character in the process.

According to Robert J. Ray, the story starts with a problem or conflict. The main character tries to achieve his or her wants but is frustrated by each solution seemingly adding to the problem. Act One ends with a change of mood or pace. Flashbacks are saved for the Act Two. The middle of Act Two is great for sex. Apparently that maintains the reader’s interest in the mushy middle where the flashbacks congregate.

Act Two ends with a complication like a mini-climax propelling the action. Act Three contains the climax and resolution of the conflict, and results in the character changes.

All of this sounds good until you actually try to work it out. I’ve tried this method on several stories without much success. Perhaps there’s something I just don’t understand, because I’ve met an author who has used this method and published three novels.

Give it a shot.

Source: The Weekend Novelist, Robert J. Ray, Dell Paperback, New York, NY, 1994

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