Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you today. You’ve probably heard the terms planner, plotter, and panster. Some writers must have a detailed outline before writing the first word of a novel. Others write by the seat of their pants and let the story (or characters) determine what happens.
I’m somewhere between. When I begin a novel, I have a general idea of where I want it to go. I name my characters, know the inciting event that propels the lead character into action, and how I want the book to end.
Pansting has its problems. Among them are under-developed characters and flat settings (white room syndrome). Believe me, I’ve struggled with both.
To remedy the problem, I searched for various character sketches and settings tools. Some were too sketchy (pun intended), others too detailed. After being ready to give up, what did I do? Made my own. I took ideas from various sources, added some elements, and deleted others. I started to use Word, but I found Excel worked better for what I had in mind.
I have columns for character name, role, occupation, physical description, personality, habits, background, and notes.
For settings, I made columns for location (name), related characters, season(s), unique features, description, sights, smells, sounds, tastes, textures/sensations, and notes.
I don’t always use every column. If I have a minor character that makes only one or two appearances, I don’t need to know everything about them. However, I have learned to keep a list of EVERY character’s name. The more you write, the more you tend to forget. You might have a villain named Joe Smith in one book, and later decide to name your hero that in another. Loyal readers might remember and the name could cause them to immediately dislike the character.
Another tool I find useful is a calendar. I’ve tried timelines, but I find a simple calendar works best for me. Again, I turn to Excel and use one of their templates. Here’s an example from my novel, Unclear Purposes.
Does that look a little like an outline? 😊 Seriously, I doubt I’ll ever become a complete planner, but these few tools help me from getting too far off track.
Are you a planner or a panster? What tools do you find helpful for your writing process?