From Pants to Plot–Aiming For a Cleaner Draft

I’m not much for plotting. More of a fly by the seat of your pants kind of girl.

Actually, if you see me plotting–and especially if you see me jotting down my characters’ brand of toenail polish– just go ahead and hire an exorcist. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a supernatural ability, and I’ve never really wrapped my head around it.

I start plotting, and everything just stops. There’s a plot. Maybe I get as far as a to-do list. But checking off scenes doesn’t really work for me. I don’t wind up with finished novels like that. Just a lot of first chapters.

When I don’t plot, things work better. I get to the end, eventually. And then, I revise.

Revision takes me a long, long time. After all, the manuscripts aren’t always in chronological order, and pieces can be missing. And that subplot that seemed so brilliant? Well… let’s just say that could be a novel of its own.

So, right now, I’m staring at more manuscript than I will ever need, and wondering if there isn’t a better way to do this pants thing.

Something that would make revision a little smoother, at least.

I’m not suggesting that I’m going to give plotting another try. That was a disaster. But some kind of plan to produce a smoother rough draft and make the revision go more smoothly? I could be into that.

The places I can see changing right now are:

  1. Better use of My software. Things get labeled appropriately as soon as I’m finished writing them. They have real chapter names. They have descriptions. They are arranged in something resembling chronological order.
  2. More focus on writing scenes in the order they happen, rather than the order they show up in. I have no idea how to do that. But, it would be really nice to have a neat orderly manuscript going into revision.
  3. Filling out plot cards as I go, rather than waiting until the end, and keeping them in order, at least.
  4. Plot grid! Well, it’s worked for me before… when I happen to do it.

And the thing that needs to go back to the way it was is the daily word count. I thought about dropping it, based on the fact that I can’t revise as fast as I write, but the last year hasn’t produced the results I want. I’m going to say that I undervalued raw words, and possibly over-valued the revised product.

If anything, maybe I should have increased my goal word count. Especially if the goal is to write cleaner.

If anybody has any ideas on this, I’d love to hear them! Don’t be shy. Shout your thoughts out in the comments.


  1. Reply

    Writing is such an individual process, isn’t it? I do some of what you do- write scenes as they show up, have a rough idea of what’s going to happen but no real outline… On the other hand, I also write chronological, and, at least with my fanfiction so far, I have very clean first drafts. I mean, what I produce is what goes up on the archive, and people read it, and like it, so… I’d call that clean?
    So, I suppose, my experience is: I write both things at the same time- chronological, as my main project file, and random scenes as they show up in my cutout file. And then when I get to the point where the cutout needs to go, I stick it into the chronological file, adjust and fix anything that needs changing since it was written, and there I go. Fixing is usually minimal, my cutout scenes are there for particular lines of dialogue and emotion and character/relationship development. Which… Huh. You know, I think I write emotional plot first (i.e cutout scenes), and then follow up with action plot in sequence. Well, at least with my current project.
    Anyway, the only tip I have is that, yes, writing yourself an outline for reference while you’re putting the novel together is REALLY helpful… I’d be completely lost in my 100k+ fanfic without that road map telling me what happened in what chapter and what date it is…

  2. Reply

    Plotting means different things to different people. For me, the process goes something like…

    1) Write the logline (Who is the story about? What do they want? What’s preventing them from getting it and what is at stake? Maybe throw in a complication or two if they’re especially important.

    2) Figure out the big scenes: How does it end? (Climax/Resolution) Happy, sad? A bit of both? Does the Main Character change the way they think or act in order to solve the story problem or are they trying to change other people’s minds? What is the big revelation about themselves or the story problem that enables the MC to go from reacting to the story problem to actually doing something about it? (Mid-point.)

    4) Determine the remaining major plot points between acts 1-4. How does the MC recognize the problem and commit to doing something about it? How does the MC discover the truth about the problem/antagonist? What price does the MC have to pay/what terrible choice do they have to make?

    3) Decide who the other major characters are, how they relate to each other and how those relationships change as a result of the story. Make a list of steps of how they go from A to B. Arrange them in chronological order and see if you can combine scenes between plotlines. This is the story’s spine. You may not need any more than that.

    The spine will help you keep your story on track, allow you to do things like foreshadowing and thematic symbolism, etc. You’ll end up doing all this anyway, the only question is do you do it up front or while you’re throwing hundreds/thousands of words away during revision. 🙂

  3. Reply

    The method I favor is what I call the slag pile. It’s an anything-and-everything document, and I’ll often start writing sections and chapters there. BUT THEN, as soon as I’m convinced it’s worth having, I copy and paste the section into the chronologically correct point of the actual manuscript.

  4. Reply

    I’m using Libbie Hawker’s “Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing” to shape my messy NaNo draft. She emphasizes character arc, i.e. giving each main character a serious flaws he/she must overcome in order to achieve his/her external goals. Like you, I’m looking for a way to make my revision process faster and easier. My first novel took me — gasp — five years to write and edit. I’d like to get a few books done before I die.

    • Reply

      I’ll have to check out “Take off Your Pants” it sounds like it’s right up my alley. I’m also a little long on revision time, so it might save my career.

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