The Outline-Pantser Hybrid Method

Outliner or Pantser? It’s one of the most commonly asked questions/timeless debates in the writing community. Each side has its strengths. Each side has weaknesses. I’ve tried both. Here’s what happened to me (and me alone. Not trying to make any sweeping statements here, guys.)

When I was pure panster, I usually ran into a moment like this:To be 150 pages in, only to crash land into the side of an enormous plot mountain kind of stinks. A lot. Oh sure, you crawl your way out, but it soaks up a lot of time, and drains vital confidence.

HOWEVER, the two times I faithfully outlined my entire book before writing, it ended up like this:I’d be all excited while developing the outline, but when time came to actually write . . .it was gone. I’d squandered that heat on the planning phase.

This has led (over the years) to the development of:

The Outline-Pantser Hybrid Method

Step 1: When Shiny New Idea strikes, take time to ponder before writing.
Even for Pantsers, I think it’s a good idea to do this. Daydream about your world, your characters, and possible plot twists. I’m not recommending any single period of time, because some ideas come in more fleshed out than others. Just make sure you have a good grasp on the kind of story you see this becoming. And make sure you have one thing, vital to the OPH Method. . .

Step 2: Wait for that opening scene.
We all know how important the beginning is. Over my years of writing, that has only become more clear. So in this method, you need to have that awesome opener in mind. That scene is going to kick start your enthusiasm.

Step 3: Put your Panster Pants on.
The OPH Method blends the best of each, right? And one of the benefits of being a Pantser is that you really are free to create and fall in love with your story. Work is important, but if there’s too much work at the get go, you may well lose steam.

So once you’ve fleshed out your story a bit in your head, and you have that great opening scene in mind, just go for it. WRITE. Let your imagination free. Go crazy with those first chapters. Fall in love. Be a pantser for all of Act 1. But then. . .

Step 4: SCREECHING halt.
Time to get down to dirty work. Things need to start really getting going now, and we all know how important each chapter is. So, it’s time to outline the rest of the book.

This isn’t an infallible document that must be obeyed slavishly. And it doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed. But now is the time to really make sure you’re on the right track. And to make sure it STAYS on the right track.

I know, I know, it’s hard. But so worth it. And I actually find it a big relief to have a solid outline. I know that every scene I write from here on out will serve a definite purpose. (Often two or three purposes.) And the best part is, you’ve already fallen for this story during Step 3, so the chances of you fizzling out now are slim.

Step 5: Finish the book!!
With your outline in hand, dive back into that baby! Chances are, you’ll be chomping at the bit. So run free, you majestic stallion. And be energized by the notion that all of this work is going pay off in a VERY sturdy rough draft.

So there it is. My humble method for drafting. It’s led to my strongest rough draft to date, and my WiP is going so well, it’s almost scary. Maybe it can work for you, maybe it can’t. Like I said, different things work for different people. But it’s always fun to figure out a way that works great.

How about you? Has your method changed? Have you found your perfect process?

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21 Responses to The Outline-Pantser Hybrid Method

  1. cdowdy says:

    I’m a hopeless pantser and this makes good sense. When I try to outline I end up just like you did. This strikes a nice balance between the two.

  2. Patti Larsen says:

    I am and always will be a plotter–I can’t help myself! I find freedom in writing from an outline–mind you I’m flexible when it comes to changes, but when I have a path to take I find the writing flows so much better–and I’m much faster, more efficient and have fewer plot holes (much to my editors delight).

    I think all that matters is finding what works for you and do that consistently.

    Great post!

  3. My method changes a little with nearly every book, but I have to say, your OPH method sounds an awful lot like my method. Pantser for the first 3rd and then basic outline for the rest. Make sure you answer all those promises from the first act.

    :) Great post, Ren!

  4. Ruth Josse says:

    I love this idea. I’m half-way through my WIP which was mostly written panster-style. But now would be the perfect time to sit back and plan ahead.

  5. This is my method too. OPH sounds a lot better than what I’ve been calling it – Pantplotstering. :)

  6. Aspiring says:

    This is a great post!

    I used to be a pure pantser, but now I rest somewhere in between, though my planning is differently stacked than yours.

    Normally, I start out with more planning. I’ll write character profiles, write about some of the locations, and maybe even draw some stuff in the story. This is my mulling process, and really gets the ideas flowing.

    After that, I’ve generally found my opening scene and am dying to get to the writing, so I go for it, and write that first scene. And the rest of Act I.

    Then I plan Act II, as I tend to drag a bit in the middle. I modify the part I plotted as I go, but usually, by the time I hit Act III, I am gaining a lot of momentum again.

    I become a pantser again as I near the turning point of my books, and the nearer I get to it, the more I write and the faster I write it. It’s just impossible to ignore my excitement, much less plan ahead on any of this. I tend to discover the most interesting bits about my stories when doing fast paced writing like this, so I just let go and run.

    I may, however, try out your method, seeing as it is similar enough that it won’t be like a fish out of water for me.

    Again, great post! That definitely mixes pantser style and plotter style effectively!

  7. Whirlochre says:

    I trust the seat of my pants enough to know what I am being presented with demands an outline.

    If I presume my instant writes are anything other than hints of figments I end up mis-wearing my underwear.

    So I stash my unruly pants in the Drawer Of Pantsy Things until their wash-shrivelled elastic and brazen singular thonginess become entwined in a ball of something pan-pantsy.

    Only from nets of knotted undergarments may potentially suffocated gussets meaningfully proclaim.

    But — quote me on this and I’ll sue.

  8. storyqueen says:

    ^Whirlochre’s comment is cracking me up!

    I think I have a bit of a hybrid method, too. I like to write about my story a lot before I actually write it. I keep it in a working document I call the manifesto. It’s the place where I put all of the “what-if’s” in the story.

    When I am writing the story, I continue to stick stuff in the manifesto…seems to work. And when I get stuck, I can go and look at some of the thoughts I’ve had and it often unsticks me.

    Shelley

  9. These comments are hilarious.

    I’m a bit fan of lists: lists of characters, lists of settings, lists of scenes I want in the book, etc. But I always have the opening line and the ending scene in my head before I start. It gives me something to aim for. :)

  10. Ha ha! Funny comments! 😀 My method is changing a little. With my last book I was a true pantser. No outline at all. With the book I’m writing now, I brainstormed and brainstormed. Started writing it, and at about 20000 words, did the unthinkable. I got stuck. So, I’ve been brainstorming again, and I may take your advice and outline the rest. I know what is going to happen, I just need to stay on track and MAKE it happen! 😉

  11. Cdowdy-There’s definitely something to be said about the boundless creation in the pantser method.

    Patti-Agreed! I always breathe easier knowing I’m working on a scene that plays a vital role in the progression of the story.

    Jenn-It sounds like we’re drafting twins! *high fives*

    Ruth-Try it, if you like! It may not work perfectly the first time. I think a person definitely needs to find a way they’re comfortable with, but it’s always nice to try something new. :)

    Stacey-lol! I don’t know, pantplotstering does have a nice ring to it. 😉

  12. Aspiring-That’s great! It sounds very effective, actually. The OPH method is really all about blending the best elements of the two, and I think your method does this perfectly!

    Whirl-lol, this is brilliant. You know, I think you should put together a book on writing. We need some entertaining stuff in that genre. :)

    Shelly-That’s a great idea. A good way to get the creative juices flowing and harness the pantser spirit in a controlled place. Nice!

    Miriam-Me too! I’m a total list fiend. It’s just so clean and organized to refer back to.

    Chantele-That’s exactly what led me to develop the OPH method. I got a few thousand words in and ran aground.
    Try an outline. It could be just the thing you need! :) Or it couldn’t . . . everyone’s different. But it’s always fun to try new methods, I think. :)

  13. Candice says:

    Hey, you got a Natalie blog makeover too!! I like it!

    When I get a new story idea, I outline like six or seven major bullet points. So basically my outline consists of six sentences… Then as I’m writing,if I think of things that need to happen in the future, I write a sentence about them at the bottom of my ms. It works for me. Kinda. :)

  14. Jolene Perry says:

    Yep. That’s me. Frantically write. At about 15 – 20,000 words, all screeches to a halt and I plan the rest. It doesn’t always stick, but I plan.

    The opening??? Well, I thought I had the perfect opening on my current project, but then I thought, wait, I don’t need the first chapter, then i realized i didn’t need all of the second. Turns out my opening was halfway through chapter three. That’s a first for me.

  15. Dean C. Rich says:

    Great post! Finish the book seems obvious, but a lot of great starts never get to the end. I know I feel so much better when I’m done, it is all down on paper. Now I can start the real work. 1st draft is just for me, after that it is all about getting it ready for the world.

  16. Ooh, I like your method. I want it to be my method. With this last rough draft I started I found it helpful to doodle while daydreaming BEFORE diving in. (Actually, I read that Judy Blume did this before writing. So, she seems to know what she is talking about.) You know, draw pictures from your story, job ideas down, make a mess of your paper. It helps the ideas to flow.

  17. I like your new website design. And pretty picture.

  18. Agreed! Yes, some sort of mix of the two seems to work best for me as well!

  19. Candice-That’s always how my outlines start. Though I usually flesh them out a little as I go.

    And yes! Natalie is a wizard. :)

    Jolene-haha, that happens to me too. I think the awesome opener only has to work to generate your excitement for the book. Sadly, it usually gets re-sculpted during edits.

    Jessie-I love the drawing idea! I actually did that for my very, very first book. I think J.K Rowling does that too. Or did, when she was writing the first book.

    (and thanks! :))

    Daisey-Yep, it’s a pretty common method, actually. Though it has different variations. :)

  20. Love your pictures and reasoning. Good luck. I hope this works.

  21. Katie Dodge says:

    I so agree with this. I was a pantser with my first book and now I’m mixing it up, just like your hybrid method! It’s working so much better this time! Thanks for stopping by my blog :)