Tips on Tuesday: Road Map for a Pantser

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

As writers, we all need to have a road map. Some writers draw (occasionally with a mapping program) their maps. Others format them as outlines. Or Post It Notes. Or a giant white board. Still others sketch it out on butcher paper or poster board.

And we “pantsers”? We do it entirely in our heads. And mostly without thinking about it. But somehow, inside our brains, the seed of an idea begins to sprout. It’s roots may burrow deep, its leaves may slowly unfold one mite at a time. Eventually that plant sprouts into fronds and leaves, flowers and fruit. But what if some of the fruit grows like potatoes and carrots, underground? The flowers forget to produce seeds and are left hanging and stunted. Even without the coming of fall, some of the leaves desert the twigs and branches from which the sprang.

Maybe its time to examine our burgeoning Mystery Plant and see what we have.

I’ve begun just such an examination for a YA WIP of 211 pages, which has a beginning, a LOT of middle, and even an end. Of sorts. But I also knew something was wrong. How to fix it?

Before we can fix, we need to examine the plant and see why it is ailing, why leaves are falling prematurely, why the fruit is too small and undernourished to provide that which is needed by the reader. Or even by the Pantser.

I started by making a list of my chapters, by number and title, what pages they began and ended with, and how many total pages were held within that chapter. About half-way through the 21 chapters and the 14 unnamed and incomplete sections, I thought “Why am I doing this? It’s probably just a waste of time!” And later, “I could have written another whole chapter by now!”

Still, I pressed on. When I finished the list, I looked back at what I’d done and, surprisingly, I’d actually learned some things:

I have four fairly long chapters: 14, 15, 18 and 20 pages long.

I needed to examine those to see if enough was happening in them to warrant that many pages. Knowing me, I would also need to look for unnecessary repetitions, and trust that the reader would “get it” the first time around (or at least the second).

Other chapters were very short. 1 had one page, 2 were only 2 pages, 2 more had only 3 pages. Three of them — all in a row — had 4 pages each. Would that last appear to be for some significant reason? For “shock” value, or some surprise element, an extremely short chapter (1-2 pages) might have some value. Were they that, or did the need to be combined with another chapter? Or did they just need to be fleshed out?

I also discovered that I had — word for word — repeated one entire chapter just before the last chapter or two. CUT!

I found an ending chapter which I’d repeated large portions of THREE times. CUT!

Everything after p. 173 (in the new pagination, which cut it down to the 211 pages) really fell apart and needed Major Surgery. These “pieces” of chapters which came after p. 173 included one piece that looked like a repeat of something earlier, one piece — not at the very end — actually gave the line which I’d planned to have as the last line of the book.

And all that from, basically, a list of numbers.

For what I discovered next, I’ll see you for “Thinkin’ on Thursday!


1 Comment

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One response to “Tips on Tuesday: Road Map for a Pantser

  1. Pingback: Thinkin’ on Thursday: Road Maps in More Detail | The ABC Writers Guild

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