Plot planning when you are a pantser


I would like to know how do I plan the whole book when I don't know what is going to happen.

I know the theme, I know what is happening now, but I don't know what would happen next. sometimes I get several options in my head that I don't know which one to take, but many writers that I love plot the whole book before hand.

It is driving me crazy. Help please!

Answer: Story arcs tend to unfold in similar ways. Some writers like to say that the end is in the beginning, because a well plotted arc will have a certain shape, so if you know the beginning you can to some extent predict what comes next (at least in very general terms). Of course, to readers this structure should be largely invisible.

For example, if everything looks black at the crisis (3rd act in a 4-act structure), if it seems the heroes will lose and victory is impossible, then the final act will be a reversal. Victory will be snatched out of the jaws of defeat.

On the other hand, if victory seems inevitable at the crisis, then you know everything will go wrong leading to a catastrophe and tragic ending.

Taking that back a step...

If you know the crisis will be a black moment, then act two will build up to that crisis through a series of complications, problems arising, obstacles, etc.

If you know the crisis will look bright, then act two will show the heroes making progress, building to that bright moment.

You also know that the first act will introduce the story problem. Some new opportunity or threat will arise that will set the hero
on the path they will follow.

Similar guidelines apply to the main character's inner journey. The main character's personal crisis in act 3 is the moment they choose whether to change or stay steadfast, and that choice will usually determine the outcome of the story.

For instance, if you are going for a happy ending, the main character will make the right choice at their personal crisis, which means they will end the story happier or better off. If you are going for a personal tragedy, then the main character will make the wrong choice at their personal crisis.

Act two will show how the main character is pressured to change, is made to doubt their usual way of doing things.

Act one will show who the main character is, what their usual approach is, before the pressure to change ramps up.

So you can consider who your main character is in act one. How can you pressure them to change? What might they need to learn as the next stage in their growth? (Or, do they need to resist the temptation to change?)

Show the pressure to change in act 2. Show what choice they make in act 3.

In act 4, show whether that choice led to success or failure, and whether the main character ends up better or worse off.

I realize that's all very general. Every good story feels different because there are an infinite number of plots that still follow that pattern. But I hope that gives you something to think about.

BTW, if you are a pantser, you may want to get part-way through a draft and then sit down and consider where the story is going.

Best of luck.

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