‘Outliner’ or ‘Pantser’ – what are you? Can you tell the difference from the writing?


I came across an excellent post by writer Barbara Rogan (barbara rogan.com) on the topic of ‘outliner’ or ‘pantser’  (meaning ‘seat of the pants’ or ‘organic’ writer).  That prompted me to comment as below. It’s a fascinating discussion and I’d welcome any views other writers may have – what’s your approach and for readers can you tell if the author is an ‘outliner’ or a ‘pantser’ from the writing?

I write outlines for my crime/mystery/thriller novels for all the reasons Barbara states in her blog post. I find it more efficient and avoids going down cul-de-dacs. I start with:

1. A nugget of an idea, (max. 50 words)
2. Expand that to a one or two page summary of the novel
3. Then write short – a line or two – scene summaries.
As I write each scene I use a standard checklist – from whose viewpoint, purpose of scene, what happens, setting, conflicts, outcomes, hook. All short one-liners.

For some writers, I acknowledge this approach might seem mechanistic – but do you know, it works for me and I do find the story will shift and change as I write, especially in the rewriting after the first draft (this is when I juggle scenes, delete or add new scenes, characters and group them into chapters).
As I have my scene summaries written, I always have a starting point, a trigger to write each day – no blank pages!

A final tip – I view and write in ‘outline view’ with the Word ‘document map’ feature turned on (you need to check or tick the box). Type your brief scene heading in level 1, the scene in body text. Hey presto, on the left of your screen are listed your scene headings only, on the right the full scene you are working on. Both detail and overview in front of you on a single screen. Great tool!

In a future post I plan to elaborate on this approach using examples from my latest DCI Matt Proctor crime novel due out soon – and show my method of developing and keeping track of my characters.

All best,