Creative Writing While Still Planning (or) Planning for a Pantser


By nature, I’m more of a pantser than a plotter.  (Okay, maybe it’s because I was never taught to plot.) Recently, however, a writing friend looked at one of my story ideas, proceeded to twist it on its head and challenged me to write a short story using the idea of a bridge burning at both ends then suggested a few elements to work in, however I chose.  I thought when I gave him the finished draft that I had gone too far afield of what he had “assigned” me.  He emailed me back quickly and told me, “You nailed it!”

That made me start thinking about how you plot and then work the elements you’ve decided on in, but also have room to make the story whatever it might be.  I have started several short stories since then, and also pulled out several that I started some time ago, but haven’t yet finished ANY of them.  Normally I get started and sometimes I finish and sometimes I get lost along the way.  With the framework that he gave me, I plowed right through writing but wasn’t too stifled.  It was something of a revelation.

How to create that framework to work within on my own? I’ve heard and read lots about outlining and planning but I’ve never really managed to grasp it.  Maybe I’m older and wiser but it’s beginning to make sense to me.  I really enjoyed Chuck Wendig’s post in 2011 on 25 Ways to Plot Plan and Prep Your Story, but I can’t say I was able to apply it that well.  (I think that was my shortcoming, not his post.  I’ve always been that way, I could memorize formulas in math, no problem, but applying them was a whole other quadratic equation.)

I like Wendig’s ideas of “The Vomit Draft” where you just write down everything you can think of and “The Bring Your Flashlight Draft” where you only outline a chapter or scene in advance.  (Is that really plotting?  I guess so.)  Anyway, give his ideas a read.  (He’s hilarious.  Seriously, I now must go read some Chuck Wendig.  However, there is at least one thought that made me say, “Oh, ish.  No, it wasn’t the pants comment, it was before that.)  One of my favorite thoughts, “The key is not to let this – or any planning technique – become an exercise in procrastination.  You plan. Then you do.  That’s the only way this works.”

I’ve been hearing a lot from people about using the Snowflake Method to organize their thoughts about a story.  I’ve looked at it and found the originator’s articles online about how to use it for both novel plotting and short story plotting so I’m going to give it a try and see if it helps me finish these short stories I have started.  I suspect it will.

At the same time, I’ve started turning Jim Butcher’s LiveJournal blog into something that I can hit point by point in plotting out my novel for NaNoWriMo.  He says himself that this is information he learned, not something he came up with, so I plan the distillation once I have it finished.  I figure, if I use the Snowflake method then fill it in just a little more using Butcher’s methodology, the novel is going to be a lot easier come November 1st, as long as I can stay in story space.  I’ve been out of that part of my brain for a week at least and I’m looking for the door back in.

In the meantime, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  It really reminded me of books by Madeline L’Engle that I read when I was growing up, though with a bit more adult content.  There was the same wonderful young main character, the magic and yet the feel of the Time Lords.  I’ve always enjoyed stories with a young protagonist.  I suspect that’s because we’re all a child inside, as he says in the book.  Or as another author put it, we never lose all the ages we’ve been.

Anyway, reading a slightly older collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman now, listening to Anansi Boys in the car, working on applying the Snowflake Method to my short stories in progress, and distilling the LiveJournal entries from Jim Butcher.

Right now I have a story to write and I need some coffee.  I’ve already written one scene last night, two scenes this morning, and I have two more to write then I can start editing and turning it into something that makes sense.  Wish me luck.


  1. lisenminetti said,

    September 27, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    This post could be me with very slight tweaks. I’m about halfway through trying the Snowflake Method and reading American Gods. I have always been a pantster too – finding that the whole planning aspect makes me think of writing as too much like work. But it works for a lot of people. I don’t think I am one of those people though. I got halfway through the Snowflake Method to the ONE part I really wanted to try, and it annoyed the hell out of me.

    So I sat down and just talked through ideas with my husband. And he picked nice stupid methodical holes in my plot. I cursed him, argued with him, hated this viewpoints and admitted he was 100% right. Then we talked about a better way to go about it. An hour later I had two pages of plot points I wanted to hit and thirty minutes after that, highlighted the ones that I knew would need work. I feel like if I do any more planning that this, I will lose the drive to be creative come November.

    I hope it works out for you – best of luck!

    • melorajohnson said,

      September 27, 2013 at 7:15 pm

      LOLOL! Don’t you hate it when people show you where your plans don’t hold water? Ah well, sounds like you’re well along. I think that falls in with one of Chuck Wendig’s suggestions of plotting some then writing before you plot more. I think however it works, is the perfect way. This is something new I’m trying. Unfortunately, I don’t have a husband who writes so he will listen but doesn’t have much to say on what I’m doing. I rely on my writer’s group and some writer friends for that. I’m not even ready to start working through that, may not be until the last week of October. Too many short stories to finish drafting for other things before that. At least I got one almost done today. I’m around 4,000 words and feeling good.

      • lisenminetti said,

        September 27, 2013 at 7:25 pm

        Oh my hubby doesn’t write. or read. He just likes to poke holes. I have been trying to find a writing group near me for age, but I live in a weird area that is right on the edge of everything.

      • melorajohnson said,

        September 27, 2013 at 7:38 pm

        LOL Sounds like an engineer. Yeah, I never had much luck finding one close to my home. I’m lucky to have the job of running one where I work.

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