Tag Archives: outlining

A Pantser’s Plight

I was in elementary school when I first recognized that I hated outlining. I didn’t see the point. I remember watching The Return of the Jedi with a misperception that each scene was written then shot sequentially. I thought that George Lucas dreamed up Endor after he had already filmed the demise of Jabba the Hutt.

Writing after brainstorming always felt bland and shallow. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized my condition had a name. I am a discovery writer.

I’d rather get a root canal than put together Ikea furniture. I can’t stand building something from plans. There’s absolutely no joy in it for me. My wife on the other hand loves these type of projects. She likes seeing them develop exactly as they should. When I cook, I seldom use a recipe. If I have a recipe, it’s more of a suggestion tool than a plan. In fact, I make a note to deviate from the recipe. I think that the reason I don’t like Ikea plans and recipes are the same reason I don’t like to outline. For me, the fun is discovering the end result. With recipes, plans, and outlines I can easily visualize the ending and so the final result isn’t gratifying, it’s just expected.

But discovery writing while fun and enjoyable is probably the least productive form of writing. I knew that I’d have to face these demons if I ever wanted to be a successful writer.

David Farland wrote a book called Million Dollar Outlines. For it’s title alone, I avoided it like a plague thinking that it would chastise me for being a pantser and seek to take some of the fun out of my writing. A couple of years ago, after months of less than productive writing, I consulted this book.

First off, it doesn’t push you to outline or discovery write, but helps you recognize your writing tendencies. Second it gives a ton of information on how to use your style to write really good stories.

After reading Million Dollar Outlines, my productivity shot through the roof. I realized that everything I had written before was pretty much garbage, and I started integrating tips from the book to help my stories develop.

Before the book, I had this hangup where I viewed anything that I discovery wrote as “artistic inspiration” and therefore was off limits to modification. After reading the book I was able to give myself permission to make adjustments that greatly enhanced the story.

A little over a year ago, I came across a story idea that I just had to write. Before He Was Commodore is a middle-grade historical fiction based heavily on actual events. In a way, the actual events provided an outline. I was able to map out a skeleton of the story and then discovery write parts of the tale that were missing. Even though I kind of knew how the story went, I still experienced it as I added the meat to the bones.

Another problem with being a discovery writer is my WADD-writing attention deficit disorder.  I am currently writing four novels simultaneously. It’s absurd, I know, but I’ve learned how to make it work. The trouble is that what I read, what I watch, what I play, all has influence on my writing. Two weeks ago I was working on my novel Veil Breaker because I was also reading Maze Runner and something there pricked an idea. This week I am watching Breaking Bad and Reading a John Grisham novel which means I am working on my thriller Unknown Soldier. Mistborn and Way of Kings lead to me working on The Broken Amulet. Steelheart to me working on Biverse.

I use to get frustrated with my methods, but now I realize that this is how I eat an elephant, or four. One bite at a time, off whatever one sounds appealing in that moment. All four stories are progressing and I know that I can finish them, as I finished Before He Was Commodore.

I’ve given myself permission to take it easy. I can discovery write a bunch of crap and that’s okay because I can tune it up in the the second and third and fourth passes. I’ve given myself permission to write what I want when I want. I’ve written near thirty thousand words this month and edited another thirty thousand. Even though that word count was across four different stories, they are all further ahead than they were last month. I’ll get there eventually, just got to keep writing.


jace 1I live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve got an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can visit my author website at www.jacekillan.com, and you can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page.


K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel, Part One

*Please note that this is part one of a two part series. The second part of this series will be posted on Thursday, December 17th.*


It never fails. I sit down, Scrivener doc open and ready. And I’m terrified and completely unsure of where to begin. Luckily this year, I’ve discovered two books that have forever changed my writing process from here on out.

Many people will tell you to just sit down and write. Some will say to have an overall plan, but the important thing is that you sit down, every day, and write, no matter how painful it is. I offer you an option three: plan. And plan carefully.

In K.M. Weiland’s book Outlining Your Novel, she writes:

K.M. Weiland

“Each author must discover for himself what methods work best for him. Just because Margaret Atwood does X and Stephen King does Y is no reason to blindly follow suit. Read widely, learn all you can about what works for other authors, and experiment to discover which methods will offer you the best results.

My own writing routine is a constantly evolving process. What worked for me five years ago isn’t necessarily what works for me now, and what works for me now isn’t necessarily going to work for me in another five years.” (Page 18)

Indeed, you should do exactly what works for you, even if a famous writer says it’s the worst advice she’s ever heard. You should do it if an author you don’t necessarily like also adheres to the same advice as you do.

So, if you’ve decided outlining is for you (and Weiland goes through pros and cons in the very first chapter to help you decide), where do you go from there? In the rest of the book, Weiland overviews every pre-writing method I’ve ever seen, from crafting your premise to writing your pitch, character sketches to character interviews.

What I love most about Outlining Your Novel is that you don’t have to do every single exercise in the book. You get to choose what will be helpful for your process. But Weiland doesn’t skimp on giving you ideas about how to think about your novel in the conceptual stage, as she shows you how to approach shaping your creative ideas into a tangible game plan.

One of the items I found incredibly helpful was in chapter four. Weiland encourages you to look at all possible outcomes, all possible conflicts that could arise with the characters you’ve chosen or in the situations you’ve dreamed up.

“Even when you think you have a plot problem all figured out, push a little farther by asking a few more questions. What if something else happened in this scene? What would change as a result? Would the resultant shifts be for the better or for the worse?” (Page 69)

 Sometimes we get so married to an idea that we don’t even want to consider other ideas. You aren’t doing your story justice if you could dream up an excellent side story, a secondary conflict, or a great additional character to make the world richer. Ask yourself what’s expected, and then what’s unexpected.

At first blush, I’ll admit I questioned if I really needed Outlining Your Novel. I’ve been writing for over a decade. I have my degree in creative writing. Is this book really going to help me? I wondered. And the answer is a loud, enthusiastic yes. From me to you, yes, this book will absolutely help you. Some of the knowledge is common. But I found that I was pleased to have a reminder of that knowledge. K.M. Weiland digs deeply into the pre-writing process, deeper than I have ever gone. This is an incredible resource to have in my library when I’m dreaming up a new story, and I think it could be for you as well.

On Thursday, look for part two of this series when I go over K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel.

Scrivener: Friend or Foe?

Scrivener IconThey chose their icon well. Punctuation marks to engender the triumphant swells of magnificent writing, a black and white background representing the light and the dark side, and a big S. The S might stand for suffering or stupendous. It really just stands for Scrivener, often called the ultimate writer’s tool or the biggest (insert swear words of choice here) software program to ever torture mankind. When I first started with the software, I wasn’t sure which was true. Now, I might threaten your life if you threatened my writing program. I’m still no expert with Scrivener, but I love using it. Here are a few reasons why:

Writing Templates: From Step 1, I can design my work space specifically for the project I’m starting. I can have a  blank template; fiction writing that comes in short story, novel with parts, or basic novel; non-fiction in essay, research paper, and other flavors; a plethora of scriptwriting options; and a miscellaneous option that contains persuasive lecture and even a cookbook template. How cool is that?  From my husband’s research proposals to my non-fiction writing to my novels, it’s all there.

Screenshot 2015-05-06 09.23.13Outlining features: When you outline, do you like the index card method, formal outlining method, color-coding…? Yep, Scrivener can do that. Unless you need to draw a graph, in which case you could draw it, scan it, and still upload it to Scrivener to have on hand. As you can see in the picture to the right, there is a place to organize my outline with notecards. I can move them around, just like cards, I can color-code the whole card or just the corner based on any criteria I like. I have different colors for each character’s point of view. By clicking on one of my notecards, I have an optional window to the right with more information. At the click of a button, I can change the type of information. I can also view my novel in a list outline form, with notes to the side of each entry. I honestly can’t think of any outlining feature I could want that Scrivener doesn’t have. *Correction, I just read Katie Cross’s post about Nova mind. I think it would be a perfect start to getting out your ideas and then I would want to organize them on Scrivener.  Not an outliner? That’s okay. You can skip this or get a broad look at your story progression as you go.

Workspace: I need a Chilean name–find a website. What color was that character’s eyes–find my character files.  What was that website with the research I needed–Find my list of websites and remember which one to open. Sound tedious? It is. Scrivener gets rid of that. The program has a name generator. You can run it as many times as you like until you find a name that works.  The left-side bar holds a list of files that you can diminish or expand including: your manuscript, separated by chapters or sections, as you choose; characters, each one with a character sheet that shows their name, role in the story, physical description, personality, habits, internal and external conflicts, and anything else you’d like to add, and you can even attach a picture to the file; places with similar descriptions and a picture; all of your research files with pictures and links if wanted; and it will even hold onto your trash for you. Deleted that chapter, but changed your mind? It’ll still be there for you, out of the way, but easily accessible.

Screenshot Scrivener workspaceNot only is the information accessible, but I can keep track of so many aspects of my writing as I work. If you look at the picture to the left, you’ll see how I often keep my information organized as I write. I have all of my files, characters, places at my fingertips in the bar to the far left. In the middle screen I have my chapter title, the synopsis, character pov, my progress on that chapter’s word count goal, the goal number, and the goal for the entire manuscript. In right screen I have my writing. If I don’t want the distraction of all the information staring at me, I click an icon and my writing screen goes front and center and I can set the background. Then, I write like I would on any other word processor. If I need the information hiding beneath, the ESC key brings me back again. With a simple click I can do just about anything I want without searching through files or checking word counts at the bottom of each chapter.

Cons: If I love it so much, why is my post entitled Friend or Foe?

Complexity: Anything with a million bells and whistles is going to have a learning curve. I took an online course on how to use Scrivener. It helped, but I knew enough to be bored and little enough to get lost, so it required time and patience. There’s also the learn as you go method, which is what I do with Photoshop. Need something? Look up the tutorial on youtube. If you decide to purchase Scrivener I would suggest that you go through the basic tutorials at least once then refer back to them as needed. The basic program isn’t all that complex, but it can do so much more if you take the time to figure out the special features.

Compiling: This is where you insert the curse word of your choice, in my opinion.  Compiling seems straightforward and simple, but I have had more problems in this area than any other. It’s always little things, so I suggest you don’t follow my example which was to think I could figure it out on my own. Definitely watch a few how-to videos on compiling before you jump in. It is simple, if you know what you’re doing. I’ve also heard that it doesn’t always compile according to manuscript guidelines. Be aware and do some off-site formatting before submitting. My novels receive their final compilation through my Jutoh program, which I’ll be talking about in a couple of weeks, but that doesn’t help with short stories.

Limited screens: You can divide your work into two screens, but I do wish I could have more. I work on a large computer screen next to my laptop. Sometimes I’d like to have three or four screens open at a time. With Scrivener, I can get to my information quicker and easier than having multiple files to wade through, but I’d still rather have them open next to each other sometimes.

Overall, however, I don’t think you can beat the program for the price.  Just be prepared for a bit of study on the front end and you need a willingness to review until you get a handle on the aspects that are important to you. In the end, the time is worth it.

I’d love to hear your questions or experiences: