Aside

This Week’s M.A.S.H. Up: Pantsing, Planning, and Plot

M.A.S.H.

How to Play: 

On the left, list three names. This is who you’ll marry. 

On the right, list three occupations. This is what you’ll be. 

On the bottom, list three numbers. This is how many children you’ll have. 

Note: You must include one undesirable item for each category. 

M. A. S. H. – Each letter stands for a different type of housing: Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House. This is where you’ll live.

Now have your friend draw a spiral until you shout STOP! 

Count the lines and proceed clockwise, crossing off whatever lands on that number. 


My friends and I used to play this little game when we were kids. 

The thrill is in the tension as your fate unfolds. It’s only fun because something bad could happen. 

The same idea applies when building a good plot. 

Plot.

It’s the part of writing I get stuck with the most. 

I once spent more than three months trying (and failing) to find a suitable ending for a short story whose length totaled just 3000 words.

Meanwhile, Stephen King is off writing 2,000 words a day. That’s 730,000 words a year, and all by the seat of his pants. 

In the writing world, “pantsers” are writers who plot out their stories in advance. 

Others prefer to outline. They map out a sketch (detail included can vary widely) of a complete story before they begin to write. 

Personally, I like a combination of both. 

With Jinni Bert: Introvert, Sixth Grade Stinks, I began with a single scene that I could visualize clearly in my mind. I drafted it quickly while the idea for the rest of the story brewed in my head. 

Next, I outlined the structure of my book, using key event points to drive my main plot. I repeated this process for each of my subplots. 

Once I had the bulk of my story sorted out, I used color-coded note cards to write out each scene. I spread my notecards out on three tables and weaved them together in an order that worked. 

Behold:


 

Just couldn’t keep that index finger out of the shot…

Then I put the cards in a stack and began to write.  

Outlining made a huge difference for me. The words flowed more easily than they ever have in the past. 

As my story developed, I still had moments where I wrote by the seat of my pants—some plot points changed, an idea sparked over here or my character did something unexpected over there. And I still had moments where I hit a roadblock…

But thanks to my roadmap, I never got lost.