There are two kinds of fiction writers in the world, ‘pantsers’ and ‘outliners’. When I wrote my first mystery, Relic, it was by the seat of my pants. I was most definitely a pantser. I knew the story that I wanted to tell – because it had been playing in my head for a couple or three years – and I told it. There were some changes to the original story and some added twists and turns along the way but there was never, ever any sort of outline. I spent a lot of time circling back around making sure I’d closed plot holes and that everything made chronological sense.
I left some open threads in Relic because I intended for my two leads to carry on in a series of stories. I didn’t have a concrete story in mind for the second book, Busy Bees and so I began the process of writing that book by attempting to create an outline. You know what? It really just wasn’t helpful. I found myself often leaping ahead and creating scenes as the spirit moved me that might somehow fit when I actually got to that part of the book or they might not. I actually wrote a post about it, Writing in the Middle. Parts of Busy Bees flowed and parts felt like a grind because I was trying to work from an outline but thinking of things and typing them up, hoping to use them later.
I figured there had to be a better way for me to do the third book. I had a better vision of the story for Dana’s Dilemma than I did for Busy Bees but not quite the whole enchilada, like with Relic. I figured out my own process and it worked quite well to satisfy the pantser in me and to keep a logical sort of outline going. I opened ‘Busy Bees’ up as a Word document, saved it as Dana’s Dilemma (thus creating a new file) and then I took out all of the text except the chapter headers and so forth. I was left with a blank template for a new book.
Into that template, I started putting details, chapter by chapter. Based on the details, I named my chapters (I did that in the first two books). Once I had all the detail as I knew it at that time, I went back to the beginning and started writing. When a crazy plot twist or something else would pop into my head, I’d scroll to that chapter in my document, sketch it out or write it out in full (working in the middle), and then roll back to where I’d left off.
Working with a template allowed me to capture things as they came to me based on where my characters took me. It also allowed me to go backward and adjust previous work that just didn’t fit or that needed more lead in once I got further along. The chapter titles helped me find where I needed to be easily as I jumped back and forth from time to time.
I’ve been told by more than one reader that Dana’s Dilemma is the best book of the three. I’ve certainly learned a few things as a writer over the past year plus but I also think my hybrid writing process has more than a little to do with it. The writing process had both the direction of an outline and the freedom of pantsing my way through it.
I’m using the same process for book 4 in the series, Hitched and Tied. It’s a more complicated book with multiple plot lines. I don’t think I’d be able to pull it off working from just an outline. I know I wouldn’t be able to juggle everything if I was just going to pants my way through it.