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On Taking Off One’s Pants

July 7, 2015

This last couple of weeks has been an interesting time for my writing. It’s not gone as well as hoped, simply due to my studies taking more time than expected, but I reckon it’s been useful nonetheless. I’ve spent much of my writing time working with a new (for me) outlining method – and that will be the subject of today’s post.

The method in question was developed by one Libbie Hawker, and is described in her book Take Off Your Pants – a fine title for a book if I ever heard one. This one was brought to my attention by a certain Mobewan, and I’m very glad to have read through it. Hawker’s method, essentially, is to outline the main characters first and then build the novel around them. The plot, then, is tailored around character arcs and story themes rather than the other way around – and is therefore among the very last things considered.

pants_book

This is all quite different from the Snowflake method, which I’ve used before. In the snowflake method, plot very much is king: most snowflake steps are aimed at fleshing out the plot, with character arcs and themes a secondary consideration. The snowflake method is also quite a bit more rigid that one Hawker proposes, being aimed towards producing a precise outline before writing begins; Hawker’s method, by contrast, leaves a lot more wiggle-room.

I tried applying Hawker’s method on my current novel, and the results were enlightening. The beginning and final thirds barely changed, since they already went well with the character arcs and themes I’d written down. The middle third, by contrast, had a fair amount of content trimmed from it – with only a little added. Much of the cut content, I’m thinking, will be used in a future project; in the meantime, I now have a much more streamlined outline from which to produce future drafts.

So, which method do I prefer: Hawker’s, or the Snowflake? Well, having now (briefly) dabbled with both, I prefer Hawker’s method by a fair margin. It seems substantially quicker, for one thing, with a basic outline being do-able in only one or two reasonably-sized writing sessions; the Snowflake, if done all the way through, takes a lot longer. Plus, the structure of Hawker’s outlining makes it (to me) much easier to detect extraneous scenes before the writing starts – something which, really, can only be a good thing.

I’ve written a bit of actual fiction here and there, too, so I’m slowly getting back into it all. I’ve still got a long road ahead of me before this novel is done, but I’m sure I’ll get there. Eventually.

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6 Comments
  1. I sketch my plot and characters lightly – some ideas for big scenes, a sense of the ending – so I have something to aim for, and then I start writing from page 1. I don’t push my characters to follow the sketch. I get to know them and see how they act naturally. Story and character in conversation, developing as I write. There comes a point – half or two-thirds the way through – where I’m pretty sure how the story will end, but it would feel mechanical to go on because my characters are not yet ‘realised’ enough to get there naturally – I would be pushing them around like chess pieces. What I do at that stage is an in depth rewrite of the draft I have so far, with my focus on the characters and their emotional through-lines. I realise how 2D they were now that I’m really getting to know and feel them as real people, not serving the plot. When I get back to the place I was stalled, that sense of them as real people solves how to go forward naturally, and sometimes the end I planned changes, or acquires new resonances.

  2. Hawker’s book sounds like a fantastic resource. I like her focus on character arcs and themes, probably because it matches what I’m trying to accomplish as well. Glad to hear it’s working out for you! 🙂

    • Thanks! and yeah, it sounds like it would go with your techniques very nicely. It is indeed a great a resource, too; definitely one I’d recommend to anyone.

  3. That sounds kind of interesting. And a very odd title, hehe. My last successful project was actually written by me figuring out the characters and the world beforehand and then discovery-writing the plot, which sort of seems to be a similar concept-ish, so I think I’ll have to read this book and try it out.

    • I’d certainly recommend checking it out some time, as it helped me out a great deal. And yeah, it’s a hilarious title; it would be fun to see what a non-writer made of it, I reckon.

      • Hehe, to be honest, I’m not sure I’d want to know what a non-writer thinks of the title.

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