Dear Marcus: Why you should plot. And me, too. Because pantsers are in league with the Devil

Marcus: So, let me toss this at you. If you have an editor (and you absolutely should) who is doing developmental editing, he/she’s going to want to see an outline SO THAT you don’t have to go back and edit the **** out of the manuscript after the fact. 2nd, creating a novel shouldn’t be (and this idea is from Kait Nolan, and I’m paraphrasing from her introduction to the Story Toolkit by Bischoff) like just getting in your car and driving off down an Irish road hoping for the perfect romance at the end, that’s more likely to end up in you running out of gas, in the rain.

Plus, changing your outline is much more simple than changing thousands and thousands of words. It’s an outline. A few sentences about what happens here, what happens there, and so on. The point is that you change the outline first so that number of words being changed goes down from 10000 to 250. That’s working smarter, not harder, right? (Show, don’t tell! Hahahaha don’t hit me. Sorry. Dave Koster loves that piece of advice. (See his comment in response to my inanity)) Take the screenplays for the Lord of the Rings vs. The Hobbit. Besides the fact that the Hobbit was a bloated little piece of filmmaking, the Producer was freaking pantsing his way through the movie, which means it isn’t an inspired drive through the Irish countryside to find some beautiful little colleen hanging out waiting for you at the end. It was a hugely wasteful production that cost a lot of extra money to make because Peter freaking Jackson couldn’t take time out to do a little planning. So, think of driving an enormous bulldozer around the Irish countryside, paying off property owners of the places you destroyed, and hoping to get there without a map. That’s Peter Jackson in a nutshell.

Did you check out 2,000 to 10,000? It’s a buck. Go get it and read it. Rachel Aaron shows the path to professional proficiency in this craft, and it ain’t down the no-outline road. That road has only one car going down it of any substance, and it’s got Maine license plates and belongs to Stephen King. The other road, the one with outlines? That’s filled with tons of authors who publish work after work, successfully, year after year. They have a system. It works.


I’m not going to dignify pantsing with any sort of half-mumbled “if it works for you,” because I don’t think it does. It doesn’t work. It’s a lousy system and has given such masterworks as the claptrap from James Joyce, who was clearly driving down an Irish road looking for something, but it wasn’t romance. Probably another bottle of Jamesons, as this one seems to be empty.

James Joyce. Look at that eyepatch. Wait, wait: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…” Ugh. Double ugh. This is penal writing, the sort of prose that should be forced on people who do comma splices. Which I think we were doing in high school, so we deserved to be saddled with this awfulness.

All those people who say, “I pants and I do just fine,” those people are evil demons who are trying to ruin your full potential. DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. Especially the über successful ones. Because the only way they could be über successful was if they had a pact with the Devil, who is clearly a supporter of pantsing.