Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Outlining from a Supremo Pantser

Today's post comes from Shah Wharton, author of The Supes Series: Finding Esta. Take it away, Shah!

Hello all, and thank you, Samantha, for having me here with you today.

A few years ago, when I only wrote for myself, I found a site called webook.com. In case you don’t already know, it’s writing forum, and where I first shared my words. It’s also where I cut my ‘story-writing’ teeth. Prior to this, I’d only ever written poetry, so writing stories was new to me. Getting any kind of feedback was so liberating, I became a little addicted. I enjoyed how much I learned from the feedback.

Soon enough, with a tiny bit of confidence under my belt, I began participating in the many story writing challenges, most of which required we wrote flash fiction.

I loved it, and I learned so much from each challenge.

Indeed, one challenge is where Finding Esta originated. The prompt to write a scary story featuring a haunted house, planted a seed in my imagination, which grew and grew.

I pantsered (before I’d even heard the term) my way through over 20k words in one sitting, before I even realized that a) I’d failed the flash fiction challenge with such an enormous word count, and b) I hadn’t stopped to consider plot, structure, or a character arc (again, all ideas I’d yet to learn about).

I’d met a character who allowed me to regurgitate her adventure into my laptop (very good of her; we weren’t close back then). So I shrugged, and went on and on, writing…. Stuff!

All to soon, and as if by magic, over 100k words sat before me, begging for some kind of organization. I’m allergic to organization, so what could I do? Luna struggled to be heard over the loud cries of confusion on each page. I owed her the chance to tell her story, and to have her story read. But I had no idea how.

It was around then, that I decided to take my writing seriously, and learn about writing a novel, and to do so before I wrote another word. I pressed save and left the MS on my hard drive to gather dust for a while, during which time I became a blogger, made friends with many awesome writers and readers, bloggers and reviewers, moved from paper-back reader to Kindle consumer, and researched and practiced my way though a whole year. When I finally returned to the disordered MS, I rolled up my sleeves and got stuck in, with knowledge as well as imagination at my side.

What did I find? An incredible mess.

It took another year of dipping in and out, before it began to look like a novel, before it developed a storyline and characterization, before there was a beginning, middle and end. And another year of beta readers, re-writes, editing and re-editing, to do my idea, and my characters, justice. In my opinion, it will never reach perfection. Acceptance of this reality led me to publish it, instead of attempting another lifetime of tinkering.

When writing The Supes Series #2 (Finding Luna), I wanted to ease the workload, and utilize all I’d learned from writing Finding Esta. After all, I learned a lot. Most importantly - I would never pantser my way through a novel, again.

However, I’m such a disorganized person, the idea of outlining set my nerves alight. Where to begin? Well, I looked to the pro's for guidance. I tried lot’s of recommendations, some good, some gave me nightmares, took what I liked, and chucked out the rest.

Then, this is what I came up with: 

How To Outline Your Novel
By A ‘Supremo Pantser’

1) Ask yourself what makes a great story, separate those elements, then outline your story (even loosely; just make sure you know where you want to be midway, and where you want to end up) based on those elements.

For me, a great story needs - A strong theme that doesn’t preach, a fascinating plot I can follow, but not predict, a structure to help me keep all the story elements in order as I read, interesting characters I care about, even if they are mean, an appropriate setting to draw me away from the one I’m in, and to highlight the theme, and the protagonist’s internal voice.

You may choose more, or less, elements. I wanted to keep it simple, but rich enough.

2) Ask yourself what makes great a character, separate those elements into a satisfying character arc, pin that arc to the story arc, based on this information.

Use character sheets to create your characters before you start writing about them (interview them, get to know them intimately). When you begin to write, these characters will already have with layers (because you already know them so well), and this allows for an almost subconscious foreshadowing of their adventure, their personal arc. Plus, you have the sheets to revisit, as a reminder of things like dates, traits, super powers, etc.

For me, a great character is – Someone who learns something, who changes, who struggles then overcomes, who’s challenged, who triumphs (or fails) brilliantly. I could go (and on) here, but you get the idea.

3) Once you have all these ideas together, look over them, and build either (according to your preference) the three act story structure or the five act story structure. Pin to it, your plot ideas, your story and character arcs, and your theme, etc.

According to how long you wish to make your novel, allow a certain amount of chapters per act. If you want to really get organized, your can even plan each scene (my throat tightens at this thought). Up to you.

There, you’re now ready to start writing.

* You might find all of the above easier to do using Scrivener. It’s cheap, and saves an awful lot of time, and Post-its! (Note from Samantha: I use yWriter, which is similar to Scrivener, but free. It lacks some of Scrivener's features, but is still a wonderful program.)

Okay, that’s enough from me. Take care and keep writing. I do hope you learned a trick or two from this rogue pantser. Let us know if you have any other tips to share.

3 Act Structure: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-act_structure

5 Act Structure: http://goforthejuggler.hubpages.com/hub/Shakespeares-5-Act-Structure-Learn-It-Live-It-Love-It

A little more about Shah

I've enjoyed consuming stories, and storytelling my whole life. On my website, I love to feature both. I hope you'll join me often and stay a while when you do. I'm the author of a new adult, paranormal/urban fantasy novelFinding Esta, the first of The Supes Series. For more information go HERE. For more about me, start HERE. Get friendly with the menu bar, and feel free to FOLLOW MY UPDATES.
Let inspiration be your guide...


  1. Thanks so much fo hosting my guest post today Samantha. Hope someone finds it of use. I've shared it around a bit. :D X

  2. I have to say, Shah, I never saw you as a pantser--you always seem to have such a detailed and specific plan of attack for your writing and blogging.

    A very enlightening post.


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