When I started writing my romance novel, Dark Awakening, I had no idea there were methods and processes for writing. I simply started writing. As I thought of a scene, I wrote it. I then wove the scenes together until I was satisfied with where the story was headed.
It took me 10 years to complete Dark Awakening.
I’ve learned a thing or two since then including a bit about ‘pantsing’—the writing process I was using to create Dark Awakening.
When it comes to writing a romance novel, there are two main ways to start. You can either use the method of pantsing or opt for outlining (also referred to as plotting) everything. Which one is better?
I’ll leave that up to you, but here’s a look at the two to help you decide what’s best for you.
Pantsing Your Way Through Your Romance Novel
This process allows you to dive right into the story. You go where the story takes you, taking inspiration from life on a daily basis. The chapter in Dark Awakening where I describe Caitriona’s journey on a horse was taken from my experience on a long trail ride in California; the setting for the New World Order’s headquarters was captured during a trip to Washington DC. Neither of these scenes were pre-planned. I simply pulled from inspiration as the story unfolded around me.
What I love about pantsing is that you have so much more freedom in the story when you opt for this method. It gives you the ability to learn more about your characters and listen to them as they tell you how they want you to tell the story.
But what if you can’t find inspiration? What if you get stuck part way through? With pantsing, it’s not uncommon to hit writer’s block, and you may find that your stories are left unfinished for months. This was certainly the case for Dark Awakening and one of the reasons it took 10 years to complete.
To be clear, not every author who pants’ their way through their novel takes 10 years to do so. In fact, Stephen King is a self proclaimed pantser and he’s regularly cranking out novels! However, for many authors, a lack of deadline coupled with no outline can lead to months (or years!) of unfinished work. Without a plan for where to go, nor a path for reaching the finish line, it’s easy to let the roadblocks linger. Distractions will affect you much easier than if you outlined, and you can even find yourself procrastinating as you try and find some inspiration.
Outlining and Planning Your Story
When I began writing Dark Gathering, the sequel to Dark Awakening, I decided to try and outline the story, knowing I couldn’t afford to keep all my dear readers waiting another 10 years for the finished product!
Luckily I did some online research and discovered K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel. In her book, she walks writers through the outlining method she uses. The process is hands on and if you follow her method, the end goal is an overview of your fiction, with chapters and characters worked out in advance of writing. You know who you want to be where and when, with their personalities pre-created and carefully defined.
Outlining also helps when it comes to writer’s block. With the outline to serve as a guide, you can quickly and easily see where you need to go and how to get to the next chapter. If you run into writer’s block, you can jump to another part in the story and continue writing.
Outlining is also a great method if you want to create a series of novels. You can make a plan for where to stop between books and how to develop the characters properly.
Of course, you could end up getting bored. One downside to outlining is that you spend an inordinate amount of time creating your outline. I spent nearly six months creating the outline for Dark Gathering, and the latter chapters are not as clearly defined as the work I did up front.
I didn’t care. By that point, I was rather bored with the process and simply wanted to start writing.
Once I sat down to start writing, the characters were almost completely developed and the chapters were so well defined, it merely became an exercise of telling the creative part of the story.
Blending Outlining and Pantsing
It is possible to mix the two methods together. You can create the basics of a plan and then pants your way through. Or you could have the character outlines with the overview of the end and then pants your way to there.
For Dark Gathering, I started with a firm outline but I have pantsed at certain points as I found a character or scene that needed further development. And, of course, I will be pantsing as I get to the end where I haven’t done as thorough a job of outlining as I did in the beginning.
One thing I’ve enjoyed about outlining, however, is that it allows me to have a plan when my inspiration doesn’t strike. I can escape, dream, and listen to my characters for the story telling.
Do you pants or do you plot? Drop me a line below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.