Pantsing Toward an Outline: a Hybrid Approach

hand holding red pen on manuscript pagesHello to all the Story Empire readers. P. H. Solomon here today with a few outlining ideas. We’ve had more than a few posts on this site addressing our approaches to this writing task ( which is admittedly odious to some writers out there). Here are a few of those posts:

Recently, Joan Hall gave us tips for being a pantser with her “Out of Order” post.

Mae Clair declared several months back that she wanted to stop pantsing (working by the seat of one’s pants) and why with her “Confessions of a (soon to be) Reformed Pantser” post.

Craig Boyack shared, “A friendlier way of outlining,” about his storyboarding techniques.

We probably have more posts about the subject but you get the point: there are a lot of different paths to development when it comes to writing a novel. I personally prefer having a fluid outline that eventually breaks down into scene level. This method served me very well for much of the year, but I found I approached the last edition of The Bow of Hart Saga, The White Arrow, by writing the end and then continuing from about the sixth chapter (I wrote the beginning based on the rest of the book). In fact, I think I’ll likely have the end written going forward with new books just to have a solid goal even if the end will need some re-writing.

All year long, I dictating several books and the progress went very quickly.  For three of those books I had a very solid ideas which I outlined, especially for my dictation. One of my tips for dictation is to proceed each day with a script to get the most out of it which is following an outline. This process worked very well for three books.

old fashioned fountain pen with blank writing paper, feather and ink quiillFor the past couple of months, I’ve been working on another rough draft which begins a series named The Broken Shield Chronicles. I started dictating this first book simply to keep momentum even though I did not know specifically how the book was organized.  As a result, I’ve been pantsing much of the book which is not how I prefer to write at all. But I have been getting along.

It was rather easy for me to begin the book because I already had a small amount of material developed and ideas concerning the direction of the book. However, I did not have more than just a few goals in mind for the latter parts of the book. Knowing that I did not need to have the end immediately, I continued the work on the book, though much slower than I would have liked. But it has been progress.

After a while, I reached the point where I was completely winging my way through the dictation as I worked toward some specific notions in mind. In recent weeks I made enough progress that the main ideas for the ending distilled into an outline for the last third of book. Being able to pants my way that far into the book allowed me come up with several twists of the plot throughout the last third book.

Here’s the take away from the experience:

  • Sometimes you need to continue work on your books simply to keep momentum going.
  • You may not know exactly what the end of the book will look like, but pantsing maybe a good creative way to get you to the point where you do understand what needs to happen so you can outline.
  • In this sense, you will be functioning in a bit of a hybrid mode where you can pants as far as you need and then outline once you have a clear idea what you’re doing.
  • Any inconsistencies which you have because of pantsing can be fixed with your editing.
  • I don’t think it’s necessarily important that you keep yourself from working simply because you don’t have a outline for the entire book.
  • Working this way, you can continue to make progress, especially if you’re dictating or working in Scrivener where you have options to be more fluid with book development (or storyboarding).

Keep in mind that you will need to still organize around your outline and existing structure. You can easily use Scrivener to keep all of these details organized since the software allows for a great deal of fluid, creative organization. You can use the Binder on the left side to create as many or as few document folders for your scenes and chapters.

If you are working on this kind of a hybrid development for your rough draft, you may want to forgo creating a lot chapter folders and document containers. You can create these later as you begin to develop the structure of the novel more specifically. However, I recommend using the Notes from the Inspector bar on the right to keep track of everything in each container or folder. In this way, even if you are partially pantsing your way through a rough draft, you still have good information about what you have already written so it will be easier to structure the book when it comes to editing and you can come up with your chapters and scenes as a result.

Since Scrivener is built around being a writing development tool, you automatically outline when you’re creating in the Binder and you are even more specifically outlining when you make notes in the Inspector. Likewise you can use the Outliner when necessary to add scenes and fill in everything as it comes together. In my case, I can also begin creating those folders and document/scene containers for the latter third of my Broken Shield Chronicles novel based upon my specific outlining ideas for that third of the book. I can go into the Outliner and the make a few notes for all of these, and then also be more specific with detailed notes in the Inspector.

In this way I don’t need to worry about whether I have all of my organization together for the novel but I can quickly structure the novel for both completing the rough draft and moving into my editing phase. If you want some further tips about using the Outliner in Scrivener, just check out this older post from here on Story Empire.

Have you ever pantsed and outlined your novel at the same time? What are your approaches to structuring your novel, especially in Scrivener? Do you ever find, even when you are dictating, that you just want to keep the momentum going even if it means pantsing your way through the sessions? I look forward to your responses and ideas so please leave yours in the comments so I can respond.

P.H. Solomon

30 thoughts on “Pantsing Toward an Outline: a Hybrid Approach

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  3. I read this with interest, P.H. I like to know how this group writes. I am writing my first every full length novel. I have a plot outline but the story keeps veering off in unexpected directions so I have to amend the plot and make changes. It is following the basic story line I outlined.

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  4. I think at the end of the day, most of us are hybrid writers. I always have a clear idea where a book is going when I start writing, but the scenes can change along the way as I let the characters lead the story. Your Scrivener tutorials are always interesting. Someday, I will give it a try.


  5. My storyboards are pretty loose. The method allows one to get right down to word count if I wanted to do it that way. When I write between my index cards, I’m basically pantsing the story. I like the idea that some tangents are worth following. I can usually accommodate the good ones by adjusting the next few index cards.

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  6. I’m learning the plotting method, P.H. I’ve always been a panster but I had so many threads in the middle of my last book, End of Day, I slowed down mid book and developed a rough outline to reach the end. With the final book of my Hode’s Hill series, I’ve plotted the major outline from start to finish. Now that I’m in the writing phase, I need to structure scenes and chapters to match my outline. I’ll veer off course if necessary, so I guess I’m doing a bit of both (plantsing?) with a sharper eye for outlining this go round. And I REALLY do need to start experimenting with Scrivener. It has so many bells and whistles that would benefit me if I only took the time!

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  7. I’m a planner. I outline all my novels. I put the outline in “notes” in Scrivener so I can see where I just came from and where I’m going, and I put a scene description on each card so I know what the scene should accomplish. I’d never tell someone not to pants (writers have to do what works for them), but I can’t do it. It makes both the writing and editing take too long when I write without a plan.

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  8. I do a lot of planning with character bios and outlines. The funny thing is that these tend to work off the pantsing model since I just let my imagination fly with the initial idea. This gives me a foundation and guide to use when writing, which comes in handy if I hit a point where life has become too busy for me to finish the project. I can easily get back on mental track. To be honest, my outlines rarely stay the same once I start writing the book. Sections get merged, deleted, moved around, and added as the characters’ personalities are finally introduced to the mix. So, a hybrid definitely works out best for me.

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  9. I’m like Harmony, I do the least planning necessary. I know how I want a book to begin and end. The messy middle gets me every time but once I’m past that stage it’s usually smooth sailing. I would like to write a book in which I’ve planned and outlined to see if I could complete it quicker. Maybe with my next project…

    Good post!

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