Chapter Outlining like a Pantser

I know, I should be writing my novel and not using up words by blogging. But there’s something about a baby’s screaming that sucks the creativity right out of me. So say hi to baby R, everyone. He’s on my lap sniffling while I type this one-handed. 
Chapter Outlining Like a Pantser | Write Lara Write

I wanted to share how I’m outlining my novel. I’m a pantser, but my pantsing has yet to flesh out a working manuscript, because novels are so very different from short fiction and because I can’t write by the seat of my pants when I’m writing about a setting I’m still largely unfamiliar with (England, 12th century). Research has to come first, and then the exposition follows.
My last few attempts at fleshing out this manuscript have been as a plotter, but after all the planning, I have a skeleton and some ligaments. Now it’s time to add the meat, then the skin, the hair, the eyeballs, some freckles, and some pimples before I can present it as a living thing that can go out into the world.

Step One: Have (at least a vague idea of) a plot.

I’ve written many posts on plot for you, complete with my own method for plotting and downloadable worksheets for you to try. If you don’t have the 8 C’s, though, at least have an idea of the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Obviously I came up with my own method for a reason—the other methods weren’t hacking it for me, because I needed something more spelled out—but I also recommend the Plot Rollercoaster found in the novel planning workbook from NaNoWriMo. Download the workbook for free here.

Step Two: Outline

My outline is basically a Plot Treatment. Read about plot treatments and its value for both plotters and pantsers in my post “Letters from Anne Lamott.” But instead of writing paragraphs for each chapter, I’ve basically made it into a hybrid plot treatment and beat sheet.

Here’s the basic format.

Chapter [number or title]

Point A (How it begins)

Point B (How it ends)

What happens between those points?

What questions are answered?

What questions are still unanswered?

What needs to be researched?

That last one is especially applicable for me, because I’m writing historical fiction, so it might not be as important for you.

I suggest being open with the beat sheet part (the “what happens between those points”) at first, especially if you’re a pantser, so that your outline doesn’t limit your creative juices while pantsing it from A to B.

Here’s the format filled out for the first chapter of The Hunger Games:

Point A (How it begins):

This is the day of the reaping

Point B (How it ends):

Prim is chosen

What happens between those points?

  • Introduce Prim and mom, Buttercup the evil cat
  • Establish setting: District 12, the Seam
  • hunting is illegal
  • The capitol, dystopia
  • Gale; he wants to leave
  • Establish setting: The Hob
  • Madge
  • the reaping: its system for choosing tributes, getting ready, Effie and Haymitch

What questions are answered?

  • Who is the protagonist?
  • Who are her friends and family?
  • Where does this take place?
  • What kind of world is it?
  • Why should I read this book?
  • What’s Panem? What are the Hunger Games?
  • Will Katniss be chosen?

What questions are still unanswered?

  • How will Katniss react to Prim’s being chosen? How will every one else react?
  • Who will be chosen as the boy tribute?
  • Who will survive?

Research:

Suzanne Collins may have needed to research hunting for this chapter.

I’ve got the first twelve chapters laid out like this so far. I make sure the chapters will end at a point that leaves more questions than that chapter has answered. Then the next chapter either begins with a reaction to that point, or it goes somewhere else entirely, and then comes back to that reaction. I’ve heard the quote, “Never take your reader where they want to go.” In this context, another way of saying that is “Don’t answer your reader’s questions right away.” Your suspense will keep them reading.

Since my book will have a sequel, there will be some questions that won’t be answered at the end of this book, but most of them will be tied up to form a conclusion. Try to answer at least a couple questions per chapter to appease the reader. They need to be far enough away from the answer to keep them running after it, but close enough that they can remain interested. If you want a dog to chase a rabbit, the dog has to be able to smell the rabbit.

Next steps for me are finishing this outline, choosing a chapter I want to write, doing the research for that chapter, and then writing that chapter like I would write a short story—with as much pantsing as possible to connect from point A to B. If I end up at point x, then I adjust my outline once I get stuck, and then I keep going.

Do you outline? Do you use beat sheets? Do you use them while writing? During revisions?