My Writing Process: Help! My Outline Exploded!

I love learning about people’s writing styles. I’m used to the typical question, are you a plotter, pantser, or plantser? Basically, do you plot your story,  write by the seat of your pants, or do a little of both?

I personally identify as a plantser. It doesn’t matter how detailed my outline is, my characters like to derail the story and drag me screaming down another path…usually through brambles, rocks, and sharp pointy things.

They’re jerks.

But there’s so much more behind my process than what I generally talk about. Some plantsers edit at the end of their writing. Some edit while they write. Some skip around chapters, while others write linearly. So I’m going to talk a bit about what I personally do to write, and edit, my manuscripts.

Writing: The ‘What the Hell Am I Doing’ Journey

The Outline: 

It starts with an outline. I sit down and create a rough draft idea of what I want the story to be from beginning to end. I create character lists and add in tiny descriptions if I have them locked in my mind. Sometimes I leave the skeleton of the outline alone and start writing. More often than not, though, I blow the bullet points up into paragraph summaries of each chapter. It helps me flesh out the idea, see where characters are going to go, make sure I don’t have plot holes, etc. Though, I also have the “I have no idea what happens here” bullet points because, let’s face it, sometimes you just don’t know what happens in the middle.

Once that’s complete, I start writing. I’m the type of person who has to write linearly (I hate jumping to different chapters). I’m afraid I’ll miss something or mess up the plot. I usually stick to the outline closely in the beginning. I jot down character descriptions or important little notes and go about my merry little life, feeling productive and like I know exactly what I’m doing.

Enter The Character. 

For the sake of the rest of the blog, we’ll just call her Djinn…because sometimes when you’re hoping for a plot, you have to be careful what you wish for.

The Pantsing: 

So the story is going along swimmingly and then something like this happens.

Djinn: Hey…how ya doing? I see you’ve got a little novel there. That’s nice. That’s nice…Got a second?

Me: What? I’m trying to write

Djinn: Yeahhh, about that. You know your bad guy? Yeah, he’s secretly a good guy.

Me: Wait, what?

Djinn: And the protagonist? She’s in love with her best friend’s brother.

Me: Hang on now.

Djinn: And you know that character who’s a toss away and you don’t even have a name for? Yeah, that’s me. And I need my own story line. You see, I’m actually the main character’s best friend, and I help fuel this section of the story and-

Me: What? NO!

Djinn: Come on! Give me a story line! I’m begging you. If you don’t, I’m just going to keep popping up every other scene and ask ‘Is it my turn yet? Is it my turn yet? Is it my turn yet? Is it my turn yet?’

Me: Stop it

Djinn: Is it my turn yet?

Me: Oh my god, FINE! I’ll write you in. Can you go away now?

Djinn: Of course…of course.

Me: ….

Djinn: (insert character name) dies at the end of the book. BYE!

Me: AHHHH!!!

Kinda like that. Only, repeat it about seven different times during the book. I’m not kidding. I had a 23 chapter outline with each chapter designed and the characters solidified. Three years later, I ended up with a trilogy. Part of that is thanks to Djinn. You jerk.

At this point, I’m scrambling to redo my notes, add in the extra outlines, getting dragged somewhere else and watching my characters poof and reappear with different histories. It’s no wonder I can’t keep eye color or hair color straight. Things change halfway through! And that’s just the writing process.

Editing: Why do I do this to myself? 

Editing comes next, and you would think that’s pretty straight forward. Later on it is, but in the beginning, I find parts of the story that need tweaking, scenes that need rewriting…and additional characters who need more on-page time.

Djinn, for example.

I read through the entire book to check for continuity/plot errors first. There’s no sense in polishing the text if I’m going to have to change scenes anyway or cut chapters (though I understand other authors feel differently).

After fixing the plot, then comes the check for details: did I spell names correctly, are character appearances the same throughout the book, have I overused words (part 1), did I use the right words?

Once all of that is cleared up, and I realize I wrote “sequins” instead of “synchronize” (yay NaNoisms), I start destroying words (part 2). My editor, or co-creator, point out words I overuse (pariah, information, and was being three of them). I put them into search, and I try to destroy them as much as possible. It helps with the “show don’t tell” aspect as well, especially when I focus on using a word other than “was.” It may mean restructuring sentences or whole paragraphs, but if it makes the text sound better in the end, I’m fine with that.

After that, I do a few more readings of the book, but I use a different medium each time. Stage 1: 12 pt Font, Times Roman Numeral, Single Spaced. Stage 2: 12 pt Font, Times Roman Numeral, Double Spaced. Stage 3: Blow up screen to 150% to go over each paragraph carefully. Stage 4: Read the chapters out of order so I edit the language more than the plot. Etc. Some books take more rounds than others. I use different mediums, though, because it helps me catch things since it’s like I’m looking at the book for the first time.

I have an editor also fixing my book and sensitivity readers or beta readers reviewing it at the same time.

The final edit is reading through the book one last time and only checking for egregious errors.

Books are never really done. I can open The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit now and still change things. Heck, 10 years from now I’ll want to change them. But at some point, you have to let your baby go, take wing, and fly into the hands of other readers.

That was a bit longer than I anticipated, but that’s essentially my process. No writing process is perfect, and no one can tell you how you should write. You have to make it personal to yourself and adjust it as you find things that work better.

What about you? What’s your style?