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!

Preptober Plotting Tips

Welcome to Preptober! If you’re like me, you’re probably gearing up for November, which for lots of writers is simply known as NaNoWrimo. I’ve spent the last four years participating in every NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo, but I’ve never been able to fully finish a challenge. After much careful consideration, I’ve concluded that it’s probably because my writing habits could use a change and a little more self-discipline. I’m very much a pantster when it comes to writing – I just start writing by the seam of my pants and hope for the best.

While this method might be great for getting the creativity flowing, it also means that you’re more likely to encounter roadblocks to the plot. I find these happen most often in the middle of your book. It’s easy to write the beginning and the ending of a story, but the middle is where you’re most likely to drop the ball if you don’t have a set plot with a linear continuity already planned out. And if you’re participating in a writing challenge like NaNoWriMo it’s so easy to give up halfway through because you don’t know what you’re doing. 

That is why it’s a great idea to try and become somewhat of a plotster. You don’t have to detail out every single minor event or occurrence, but having a general idea will definitely help get you from point A to point C without giving up when you hit point B. And this year for NaNoWriMo I’m determined to finish a full 65k manuscript, which is why I’m spending Preptober coming up with a solid enough outline to help me next month.

I’ve been following a simple three-act outline that focuses more on the character development. The setting isn’t something that you need to worry about as it pretty much writes itself. But the plot and characters are pretty intertwined. I personally like to outline my characters’ reactions to certain major plot points. And if you follow the traditional three-act plot, it’ll create a pretty easy-to-follow outline that you can turn to when you’re in the middle of NaNoWriMo.

Check it out below:

Act One

Opening/Narrative Hook:

  • Introduce character 
  • This is also the place where you can do a bit of world building as you set up and Introduce your character’s normal world
  • Introduce your character’s unfulfilled desires or what’s holding them back

Inciting Incident:

  • What happens to disrupt your character’s sense of “normalcy?”
  • Character can react to either want to change things or escape things

First Plot Point:

  • The moment the character makes the full commitment to whatever the inciting incident has called them to pursue
  • Character struggles with fears or a lie they believe about themselves/others/the world

Act Two

Rising Action:

  • Your character begins the proverbial “hero’s quest” and along the way must confront the things that make them uncomfortable such as fear of failure, fear of their own shortcomings, breaking down long-held beliefs, etc.
  • Your character’s fight against the antagonist begins
  • This is also when your main character begins to see that their fears/beliefs are wrong

Midpoint/Second Plot Point:

  • This is the biggest part of your novel so far, in which your character comes face to face with the antagonist

Post-Midpoint Rising Action:

  • The main character devises a plan to defeat the antagonist
  • They make a small step toward their goal
  • While continuing to grow as a character, they still struggle with previous fears/old beliefs

Act Three

Character’s Darkest Moment:

  • Right after that small step toward their goal in Act 2, the main character suffers a major setback that forces them to confront the fears or misplaced beliefs that have been holding them back the entire story
  • The release of their repression further fuels them to defeat the antagonist

The Climax:

  • The conclusion of the character’s arc is complete with the defeat of the antagonist (but keep in mind if this is Book One in a series then the smaller antagonistic force is stopped, but not the overarching antagonist of the entire story)

The Resolution:

  • Your character returns to “normal” but having experienced change they can’t return to the status quo, so they begin their life in a new way