When you hear the word “prepper”, you might picture stockpiles of food, water, and other supplies in a bunker. But, all it really means is someone who prepares!
For writers, there are three main levels of prepping, each with its own variants.
These are the people who know exactly what story they’re going to tell. They have a clear picture and they know what they’re doing and where they’re going.
- The Outliner – Has every scene outlined. Heavy outliners have about at least page of notes for each scene, Light outliners have a short paragraph about what each scene needs to accomplish.
- The Barebones Novelist – Has the entire story already written — in about 20,000 or so words — and ‘writing the story’ by filling out dialogue, action, and elaborating on description.
These writers often have tons of additional material as well – research notes, character biographies, world-building, magic system building, background characters. Anything you can think of, they could have.
These are the people who are there for the journey, sometimes referred to as ‘discovery writers’. Many of them find, if they know where the story is going, they lose interest in writing it. They’re here to find out what’s going on.
- The Biographer – These are the people who are just dictating their characters, following them along for the ride. They often have an idea of who the story is about, and just see where the story takes them.
- The Short List – This person has a short list of characters or plot points, and wanders their way through them, often throwing away parts that no longer serve the intended purpose.
- It’s all in their heads – These are people who have been thinking about their story for so long, they basically know it, they just need to put it down on paper. But, the details surprise them along the way, and they let things change whenever.
- Prompter – These are the people who sit down to write, find a writing prompt, and go for it. Some of them carry this one prompt out for the whole story, some grab a new prompt when they get stuck, and others add a new prompt every day to challenge themselves to work it in.
- Just Point – Some writers just need a starting point and a direction to go, and they’ll fill in the blanks on their way.
- Let’s Try It – These are the writers who hit a junction, try ten different things, then go with the most interesting one.
Most writers fall between these two extremes. They do some planning, but not THAT much, and then see how it goes.
- Bird’s Eye View – These writers have a very high level outline, that’s vague enough to cover almost anything. They may have used a beat sheet as a guide.
- The Researcher – This person has studied their setting, the socio-economic class of their various characters, the average flying speed of a laden European swallow, but the rest might be a lot fuzzier.
- The Character Creator– This person knows every statistic and detail about the main character and their friends, but maybe a little less about the actual plot.
- The World Builder – This person has created a whole world with its backstory and myths and cultures. *cough-cough-Tolkein* Occasionally, they let the plot filter in.
- Waystationer – This writer knows a few waypoints they want to hit, but how they don’t know until they write it how they all fit together. Depending how light the details are, this might slip into pantsing.
- The List Maker – This person has a list of character names to assign, a list of plot points, a list of emotional plot points, a list of place names, a list of … you get the idea.
For me? I’ve always identified as a plantser, usually evolving from a Waystation to — when I’m getting ready to write — a Bird’s Eye View, with a dash of Character building, and list making. But, for NaNoWriMo 2021, I pulled out my beat sheets, outlined three different characters’ interweaving plots, and I felt I was ready for this story. I had planned so much more in-depth than ever before, I contemplated giving up my plantser title and becoming a planner.
Then? When I started writing, I kept thinking of new things that would make the story so much better. I’ve never jumped around so much in a manuscript, but I kept jumping back and filtering a new plot point or setting through the rest of the already-written chapters.
With all the ways I changed the story from the outline, I’m pretty sure I’ll be claiming my plantser title for at least a little while longer.
Which are you? Have you dabbled in other methods? How did they work for you?
Any variants I skipped?