A Pantser, Outlining for NaNoWriMo

Among writers, the debate isn’t so much chicken or the egg as it is planner or pantser.  What’s right?  Which method leads to a better story, to better writing?  Of course the real answer is whatever gets butt in chair, and words on the page, that’s the right way for that particular writer to go at it.  But whether you’re into extensive outlining, with beat sheets or the snowflake method, or meticulously crafting every single scene before you write it, or whether you like to fly by the seat of your pants, let the characters tell you where their stories lead and what happens next, EVERYONE should be aware of the Seven-Point Story Structure.

Many new writers (and some pros, I’m sure) wish there was a magical formula for getting more writing done, and for writing well.  I’ve always been convinced that through careful study of the theory of storytelling, of the conventions of certain genres and what I see works and doesn’t work in existing prose, I could hone my skill.  A true writer is one who reads excessively, after all (doing their homework, if you will).  I went to graduate school on the premise that exposure to stories, to workshops, to lectures, to discussions of the theory of storytelling would help in the technical aspects of my craft.  Maybe even the creative ones as well, when I’m wondering what exactly to do to my protag to really test them to the ends of their abilities.  And it’s true that the most basic magic formula is the one without any magic or glamour at all–butt in chair, words on page.  That’s what gets a story written, and that’s the kind of practice and application that make writers better.  But sometimes you have to know exactly how a thing works, before you can put it together and expect it to come to life.

So I’ve been searching.  I’ve read books, I’ve taken screenwriting classes with some really amazing, wonderful teachers, I’ve talked structure and genre conventions with my fiction professors.  I’ve read book after book on the craft of writing, studied Synder’s beats and Freytag’s model and Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.  But everything was either too complicated or too simple for me, and seemed to be entering from the wrong end of things.  Sure, I can pick apart an existing story and see where each of the beats happens on the hero’s journey.  But can I write a story trying to fit it to the structure?  I’ve tried, and it felt too rigid and unforgiving.  I’m a true pantser, and too much outlining or planning or structure just snuffs out that creative spark.

Enter this article, posted on a cool blog I follow because one of my friends from the graduate program writes as Black Widow on there (how cool, right?).  I’d never heard of the Seven-Point Story Structure before, so I pulled up all the Google links I could find, including YouTube videos and a bunch of author blogs mentioning Dan Wells and his famous take on approaching story structure.  When I first read up on the method, it was like getting hit on the head with one of those Acme anvils.  I was floored.  Here it was, the perfect approach that not only focused on characterization (the most important element of stories, in my mind), but wasn’t too restricting or rigid, and had just the right phrasing to allow me to fit it to any character, any setting, any kind of story arc.  Beautiful.

So here I am, waiting for my break between work and volunteering on a Monday, so that I can plan out the seven points of the story I’ll be writing for NaNoWriMo this year.  It’s a contemporary YA concept that I’ve been playing with for a while.  Trying to do to Percy Jackson what Lev Grossman’s The Magicians did to Harry Potter.  And with the help of my beautiful new (to me) refurbished Macbook Air, I’m going to do the coffee shop writer thing.  By the end of the night I should have the perfect starting plan for this novel, so that when midnight hits after Samhain I’m ready to start typing away with more than just a vague idea of what I’m maybe writing about for NaNoWriMo.

I won’t go into detail about the actual method for the Seven-Point Story Structure here, as there are plenty of other people who have talked about it and done so exceedingly well.  I just wanted to share my excitement and spread the word a little more, in case other writers out there weren’t aware of the structure yet, and need it as much as I did.

Happy writing, all!

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