Preptober as a Pantser

We’re halfway through October, which means we’re also halfway through Preptober! October is the humble month preceding the crème de la crème month in the writing world: November. Or, as most of us know it, NaNoWriMo. October, or Preptober, as we love it call it, is the month in which we get our stories straight (yes, pun intended). 

October is when we build our plots, flesh out our characters, and invest in brand new stationary even though most of us have a whole desk at home of abandoned notebooks and index cards just waiting to be used. In other words, it is the plotters’ busiest time of year. But while the plotters are entrenched in their meticulous outlining, there is another group of writers – the pantsers – just chilling on the sidelines waiting for November to begin. 

You see, the pantsers get their name from the fact that they don’t outline their story, they just begin writing by the seam of their pants. There are no color-coded index cards in their neck of the woods, no meticulously mapped-out storyboards, no character profiles, nada! There is just pure determination and loads of coffee.

 I was once a pantser. I used to laugh in derision at the plotters who spent their whole October hidden away, prepping. But then one fateful NaNoWriMo, when I was in the middle of a writer’s block disappeared down a plot hole, it dawned on me that perhaps the plotters had the right idea all along. Perhaps there was some benefit to having a clear outline of where the story should go. With two weeks to go, and 13K behind in my word count goals, I made the desperate attempt to plot out my story. It wasn’t all that in-depth, but just writing out the idea of what I thought should happen actually worked! I solved my plot hole while also helping to cure my writer’s block. I managed to squeak by with only 2K less than the 50K goal. I might not have won that year, but it was still a NaNoWriMo miracle.

Ever since then, I vowed to always be a plotter during the month of October. And while I think plotting is the proper way of the WriMo, I’m not here to try to convert any of you die-hard pantsers. I’m simply here to offer some alternative plotting aids to help you in your November quest:

1. Music

Whether or not you like lyrics or instrumental, there is no denying that music is useful to many, many writers – plotters and pantsers alike. It is great motivation for setting the writing mood or acting out/imagining certain critical scenes. If you’re a determined pantser you can still get in on the Preptober fun by creating yourself a NaNoWriMo writing playlist. It can be either all the music you enjoy listening to while writing, or it can be specifically picked to compliment the story you’re thinking about writing. Trust me, it can come in handy on those days you’re finding it difficult to scrape together 1,500 words for your target. 

2. Candles

I have found that scented candles are quite popular amongst many fellow writers. Something about lighting up a candle with a particular smell can help to get the creativity flowing. If you’re a scented candle person, stock up now! Make sure you have enough of your favorite candles to get you through all your November writing sessions. Same applies if you’re move of an incense writer. 

3. Sustenance

Whether you drink coffee or tea while writing, make sure you’ve bought plenty of your favorite brand. Nothing is quite as disastrous as a late-night writing session without your favorite beverage to help you feel more connected to your craft. 

4. Goals

Have a little reward system for yourself. This is particularly important for pantsers because, let’s be honest, we’re more likely to encounter the writing roadblocks if we don’t have a mapped-out plot. But, if you can incentivize yourself with a bag of M&Ms or a glass of wine for finishing 1,500 words when you’ve only got 200 and a case of writer’s block, then you are one step closer to that NaNoWriMo win. 

5. Mood Boards

A visually appealing mood board can do wonders for any potential bouts of writer’s block. Even if you don’t know what the plot will be exactly, making a mood board during Preptober can still be fun. All you need is an idea of what kind of story you want to write. For example, if you already know it’s going to be a YA fantasy that takes place in a royal kingdom inspired by the Scottish Highlands then making a mood board with that kind of forlorn and fantastical aesthetic can help you further flesh out the plot once you’re in the thick of writing. Trust me, just having something aesthetically pleasing to look at can help you avert writer’s block. 

6. Index Cards

Hear me out. You don’t need a whole detailed plot, just an idea. All you really need is one index card to write down something as simple as “a princess, a castle, an evil witch” or “The Great Gatsby meets Don Quixote in a Mad Max world.” There, done! You would be surprised what one simple little index card idea stuck to the screen of your laptop can do to make you keep writing when you have no idea where you’re going with it. It might not be a Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia level string board, but it’s a rough idea and it can be your north star during those dark NaNoWriMo nights. 

So, my fellow pantsers, have I convinced you of the benefits of Preptober? Happy writing!

Tips for Outlining

When it comes to writing a manuscript, there is one practice that is essential: outlining. The process of outlining helps us to stay focused and on track with our WIP. If we outline our story, it can also help keep us going whenever we experience the inevitable writer’s block in the middle of our work. 

Outlining All at Once versus Outlining as You Go

There are pros and cons to both outlining all at once or outlining as you go. When it’s all at once, you have a very clear idea of how the entire story will pan out. Granted, this doesn’t leave your plot a whole lot of flexibility. When you outline as you go, you gain a bit more plot flexibility. But planning out the next chapter or scene as you write it means that you might end up with more plot holes appearing in your work that you will then have to fix later on. 

Separate Docs

When it comes to outlining, some of us might be tempted to make our outlines in the same document as our WIP. But it can sometimes be helpful to have an entirely different document for your outline, particularly if it’s going to be very detailed. This helps to keep your actual work from getting jumbled up. 

Apps and Programs

There are various different apps and other programs that you can use to organize your work into an outline. Of course, you should do your research on the different apps and programs available, so you can pick the right one with the features that you work for you.

Questions to Ask When Pairing Characters

Let’s be honest, even when the main plot of a story isn’t romance, it still will often be included as a subplot to the story. Similar to the questions you’d ask when world building or developing individual characters, asking certain things of your character pairings is a good way to further develop your couples and make them realistic and believable to the reader. These are the types of questions that can be helpful to figure out how good a match your characters are. Of course, not all these questions need to be answered in the story itself, but it’s good information to have in order to better understand your characters. 


Questions to ask about your character pairings:

What do they like about each other?
What do they not like about each other?

How did they meet?

How long have they known one another?

How open are they about their love?

Is their attraction superficial or very deep?

What do they share in common?

Who initiated the relationship?

How do other characters view their relationship?

How much does their relationship affect he story?

Are they casual or serious in their relationship? 

Are they happy in their relationship?

How much time do they spend together? 

Character First Impressions

Apart from our villains, we want our characters to be well-liked by our readers. Every writer wants to believe that at least one of their characters will become a fan favorite. And there are ways of achieving this, but not all the different pointers have to be used all at once. Some of them can just be food for thought.


Show Don’t Tell

A staple of writing, it’s all about the action. Rather than saying, “she is so cool,” show us why this character is so cool. The first impression of a character lasts a lot longer when it is shown through action rather than told through words. 


Establish Empathy or Sympathy

Giving your reader a reason to relate to a character is the fastest way to make a good first impression. People are drawn to characters that reflect themselves, therefore by writing characters that illicit empathy or sympathy from a reader is the best way to create a bond between your reader and your characters. 


Impress the Reader

People are easily impressed by those who are smart, strong, funny, or creative. So if your character has such traits lie creativity, wit, charisma, or proficiency in a certain area of skills, then don’t be afraid to show them off. 


Save the Cat

Save the cat is a writing device used in screenwriting, which is meant to make a character instantly likeable if the first thing they’re shown doing is something good, such as saving a cat. Even if you’re not a screenwriter, you can still employ this in your WIP. 


Establish Mystery or Intrigue

Don’t give us everything right away. Make the reader want to know more by hinting at an interesting backstory or secret that the character might have. Not only will they want to get to know the character more, but they will also stay interested in the story as well. 

Deciding What is Plot Relevant

Writing an entire story is hard work. It requires a lot of time and patience. And when it comes to our writing, we are always given many different bits of advice. One of the advice tips that we constantly hear is that we must make everything plot relevant. And it is solid advice; we should always be striving to move our plot forward. However, how exactly do we decide what is plot relevant and what is not?

One misconception is that if we are writing to make everything plot relevant, then we can’t have moments of character bonding, or doing anything that isn’t 100% in line with the ultimate ending. But we need to remember this isn’t true. 

We need to remember that if a scene is showing the reader something personal about the characters, then it is plot relevant. It is the “why” behind a story’s action. But more importantly, it gives your reader a reason to care – if your reader doesn’t feel attached to a character or characters, then why it doesn’t matter what happens to them? And let’s face it, your characters can be integral to the plot. Not only that, but if your story doesn’t have more lighthearted or slow moments, you’re left with constant drama. And this level of intensity will quickly get old, and the truly intense moments of your story will lose their impact. 

Yes, everything that you write should have a ripple effect in one way or another, and should be plot relevant, but those that influence your character’s internal development can be just as important as the outside influences.