As a determined pantser writer, I resist the outline and prefer to thrash out a mini version of my opus in the format of the 3DayNovelContest. Then, once I get it all down, I go back and create a structure around the blathering I’ve just completed. It takes a long time, but eventually I get everything laid out.
With my latest book, Spit and Polish, I found I was getting mired down in the historical tidbits and varied storylines. I had my main character’s arc, but it was…thin. I needed some other story arcs to wind about it to make the plot and characters more dimensional.
So I logged in to Plottr, something I highly recommend for this sort of thing. They have a variety of templates of story structures in the program that guide where you put events, show you where you need events, indicate whereabouts crises and climaxes and resolutions and so forth should fall. It is infinitely adaptable, has separate sections for character descriptions, location descriptions (good for if you forget what that place looks like by page 50), other notes, research, images, etc. You can create timelines for each character or even local/world events, helpful when writing historical novels. It is fantastically rich, though I wish I could easily print off the timeline.
Normally I use Scrivener for all things writing related. It’s way cool, and allows for separation of your project into sections that can be easily moved about or edited, and even eventually compiles all your precious thoughts into an acceptable format for submission. But I find the timeline feature of Plottr was terrifically helpful to have open along with Scrivener so I could slot in various events (historical, for ex) and then take them down to Scrivener to write the actual section. There are note cards in Scrivener, but I wanted a timeline that wasn’t all included in the text.
In Jane Friedman’s excellent blog, she recommends creating a book map for both fiction and non-fiction. The article, and indeed everything on the blog, is worth a read. Book maps help keep you from the dreaded middle languishing, a common problem with longer works. I’d like to have a plot wall with stickies all over it as illustrated on the blog, but a. I live in an apartment with limited wall space and b. I have tiny T-Rex arms that limit my reach and don’t relish all the step-stool climbing I’d have to do to include everything. So Plottr and a second display it is.
In other software I find helpful, I am seriously in love with ProWritingAid as it finds all of the times I write the same phrase, identifies my tendency to passive voice, catches my bad typing, and tells me gently when I’ve started the past several sentences the EXACT SAME WAY. It gets pushy, sometimes, and occasionally I have to push back to maintain my voice, but it’s a good serious look at what I’ve written.
Sweetly, all of these programs can work together, though it’s best to start with Plottr, go to Scrivener, run everything through ProWritingAid, then back to Scrivener or Word for assembly. With my pantser approach, I go back from the first Scrivener round to Plottr, which can get confusing. I plan to change that approach for my next book. Maybe it will save me some time.
So why not try a book map for your next writing project, if you aren’t already? I have to admit, a book map sounds more fun than an outline. It seems more adventurous somehow…like you are heading somewhere exciting with dragons around the edges…