NaNoWriMo Prep: “Pantsing” Your Way Into An Outline

nano prepWhen it comes down to preparation, writers often like to divide themselves into two categories: Plotters and Pantsers (or outliners and discovery writers, respectively). Rarely, though, do we see people identifying themselves as somewhere in-between. Do many of us really go to such extremes—planning out each scene of our novel in a rigorous outline, versus sitting down without a single word planned past “Chapter One”—or do we realistically fall somewhere on the scale? Is there a way to prepare for NaNoWriMo that doesn’t either pigeonhole you into one corner, thus stifling the creativity that the challenge is created for, or leave you without a sense of direction on day one?

I, personally, have always landed somewhere in-between. It’s a hard thing to admit when everyone seems to identify with one end of the spectrum, but I really can’t see myself as strictly an outliner or discovery writer. Instead, I often find myself planning my stories in more of a free-writing discovery exercise that allows my creativity to mold and bend as needed, but helps keep me on track when I’m knee-deep in plot holes and have to dig my way out.

If you’re preparing for NaNoWriMo and need a compromise between these two methods as well, try this out! I’ll call it the “Rundown Method,” since the basic idea is to briefly tell the story as if you were giving someone the rundown of a movie you’d just seen. Here’s how the Rundown Method differs from traditional outlining:

Traditional Outlining

  1. Chapter One – Chapter Name – Boy meets girl
    1. Boy goes into café, sees girl sitting at a window seat with a cup of tea. They spark conversation.
    2. Girl seems hesitant to speak to boy for reasons the reader and boy do not yet understand.
      1. Girl has had bad experiences with abuse in the past.
    3. Boy attempts to strike up conversation.

Forgive me for the banal example… but you get the drift. Now here’s how The Rundown Method would handle the beginning to the same story.

The Rundown Method

Chapter one starts on a quiet suburban street, where the protagonist enters a café. He sees a girl he is attracted to and tries to come up with a few ways to spark conversation while he orders his drink. He then goes over and asks if the seat is taken, and tries to start up a conversation with her. She’s clearly uncomfortable and hesitant to speak with him. He presses further, though she isn’t being responsive, and begins to wonder if maybe he’s doing something wrong.

The thing I like about the Rundown Method is that it leaves more room to include details. Think of it as chapter summaries for your novel. Sure, you can include as much or as little as you want in an outline, but I’ve always felt this method allows you to go further into detail—such as how the characters are feeling, what they’re doing, and even what they’re saying—with greater ease. Getting a more in-depth visual of the situation allows you to plan out the logistics of the story while also getting a feel for its tone, which is something I know I’ve always had a hard time doing with outlines.

In using this method, I’ve come up with ideas, quotes, and major plots and themes I otherwise wouldn’t have through outlining. Likewise, I’ve sometimes gotten so immersed in describing an event in the story that my freewriting phased from story description to writing the actual word-for-word scene, then back to planning.

This may not work for everyone and may in fact allow for more diversions from the main plot line than intended; everyone writes differently, and this definitely isn’t the way most do it. But strike the right balance between creative freedom and self control, and you could find yourself with a solid plan come November First!


How do you plan your NaNoWriMo novels (if at all)? Are you working on your preparations yet? Let us know!

4 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo Prep: “Pantsing” Your Way Into An Outline

  1. I’ve done both kinds of outlining for my NaNoWriMo pieces. It seems as though I do the more traditional form on outlining if I have a vague idea of what I want to happen and then it becomes a much more detailed paragraph outline when I can see the story clearly in my mind.

  2. Pingback: NaNoWriMo Prep: Becoming a Pantser | The Sprint Shack

  3. Pingback: NaNoWriMo Prep: 8 Things to Do Before NaNoWriMo Starts | The Sprint Shack

  4. Pingback: Writing by the Seat of my Pants – Jacqueverse

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