While The Copper Witch is not my first novel, it is the first series I have ever written. As a pantser (someone who tends to ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ while writing) this has proven to be a special challenge—namely because I have a hard, hard time sticking to outlines. While this isn’t a big deal when it comes to writing one book, sticking to some sort of outline becomes more important when the ending of one book affects the plot of the next one.
So how do you stick to an outline when you aren’t the type of writer who likes them?
1. Outline only the major plot points
One of the major problems I have with outlining comes from the fact that once I have written things down, I lose interest in the story—it’s already written down, more or less, so why should I take the time to write it again? I actually write best when I don’t know the end of the story and want to see what happens. Since that’s not entirely a possibility with a series, I’ve managed to come to a happy medium with knowing the ending, but only vaguely. My main character has to end up in X city with Y person, but how exactly she gets there, doesn’t matter so much.
Only writing down the parts that absolutely have to happen for Book 2 to still be on track allows for some creativity in the actual writing process while not completely writing yourself into a corner when it comes to move on.
2. Work in paragraphs
Or at least don’t feel like you need to follow any certain outlining structure. When I first started trying to outline, I went straight to the letter and Roman numeral structure I was taught to use in high school outlining papers. The problem? All of a sudden what had been fun (figuring out where a story was going to go) started to feel like school-work. By simply writing out my thoughts stream of conscious thought in paragraphs, I was able to work out an outline without wanting to toss it aside entirely. I personally suggest paragraphs because it allows you to get all your thoughts down without trying to figure out whether something is a main plot point or a sub-point to another point or…
If you find something else that works for you, do it.
3. Leave room for deviation
When writing a series, some plot points are going to be set in stone. If Character A doesn’t kill Character B in this one scene, everything can’t progress as planned. You can write those moments out in full in your outline. If it doesn’t matter exactly how Character A gets to that scene, however, don’t try to force yourself into what perhaps you first thought would happen. Perhaps you thought they were going to use X to get there but it ends up Y feels better.
Go with Y as long as it doesn’t upset the “absolutely has to be there” scene.
4. If all else fails, figure out ways to fix things
As I’m now into Books 2 and 3 of the Broken Line series, I’ve found sometimes, even after trying to make my outlines as broad as possible, sometimes the characters still take on a mind of their own and things just don’t go as planned. Could I force them to do what I want? Sure. Would it sound awkward and forced? Most likely. If you’re as much of a pantser as I am, and somehow things get off track, figure out a way to bring things as close to your original plan as possible, and then tweak the other stories to fit accordingly.
Who knows, perhaps the next book won’t go exactly where you thought it would either!