Creating Your Story Pulse
Founder, Steam Powered Dreams
Authorpreneur, Editor, and Publisher
The choice on how to plan a novel isn’t always an easy one. Should you be outlining the whole story first, or should you take the pantser approach and just get started? I believe the real question should be why do we have to choose?
Before I get into my answer, let me tell you a quick story about a young boy, let’s call him Jeremy, who scoffed at outlining.
The Creativity of Pantsing
Jeremy was young and naive, starting NaNoWriMo without a care in the world. The only planning he had done was to think of a basic starting point the night before. During November, he wrote the 50k words to win the event and then another 70k over the next two months. It was a magical experience, the most creative he’d ever felt. The words flowed like water from a waterfall.
When he finished, he set it aside and let it rest. During these months, the creativity that he had unleashed continued to grow in his mind. He felt as if he had written a masterpiece! However, when he returned to it he realized how absolutely out of whack the writing was. The story was great, but it was all over the place; it had no structure. The story was very important to him but it would need a lot of work. He hoped to one day rewrite, edit, and publish it, but the tasked seemed so daunting. So, like many of us do, he put the novel into the proverbial desk drawer and moved on.
The Structure of Outlining
Determined to not be deterred by this, a few months later he started a second novel. This time he spent the better part of three months outlining every single detail he could think of. He had a timeline for the 1000 years prior to the story and 100’s of years into the future. He created detailed character bios, location information, and every plot point had its own section. The planning was done and he felt as if the story was already fully formed and the whole universe already created and explored.
This time the writing would be both easy and structured!
At least, that’s what he thought.
When he sat to write, it didn’t come as easy as he had expected it to. In fact, it was downright difficult. Two months and 10k words in, he gave up.
“By the time he sat down to start the first sentence, he knew the general structure of the story, where it began, and where it would end. Yet, he still felt the creative process flowing as if he had no idea what was going to happen next.”
The Perfect Balance
Fast forward 3 years, he decided to give novel writing another shot. This time, it wasn’t for NaNoWriMo or any other reason, it was just for him. He was excited but didn’t want to make the same mistakes he had in the past. He knew he didn’t have much of an idea, so he started jotting down a few notes. Before he knew it, he’d spent the better part of a day writing down ideas and organizing them. He wrote down character names, a sentence or two about who they were, places that may or may not appear in the story, plot points that sounded interesting, and anything else that came to mind, but he didn’t directly connect any of them to one another.
By the time he sat down to start the first sentence, he knew the general structure of the story, where it began, and where it would end. Yet, he still felt the creative process flowing as if he had no idea what was going to happen next. Thus, Story Pulse was born.
What Is Story Pulse?
If you came here from the First Draft Introduction post you already read the description I had there:
By now you must be wondering what Story Pulse is. Simply put, it’s the lifeblood of your story. It’s a cross between pantsing and outlining that will leave even the most devout pantser both intrigued and awe inspired. Ok, that might be a bit dramatic, but this article takes a look at what Story Pulse is and how it combines all the benefits from both pantsing and outlining.
The term Story Pulse actually comes from the idea that everything around us has a pulse that reverberates throughout space and time together, in unison. It connects the tiniest creatures here on Earth to the unknown masses at the furthest outreaches of the universe. In terms more related to writing, It’s what connects the characters, setting, and plot to one another and makes each one of them part of a real, living world.
This definition may be a little confusing since we’re comparing this to outlining and pantsing, but stay with me and you’ll see how this concept may change the way you write. Just keep in mind that, in a well-written story, every character is important. Every story arch has a point, and every location has a reason for existing.
How To Plan a Story with Story Pulse
Let’s think of Story Pulse as an electric pulse. Electricity creates a beat that is continuously moving but not consistently. One pulse may be small and quick, while another may peak high and drop low. This is the same for Story Pulse.
When you sit down to start planning your story, you’re not looking to know exactly what happens from A-to-Z. Instead, look to highlight the main points you’d like to reach in your story, even if you’re not sure how they connect. Actually, especially if you’re not sure how they connect. The only two points you should have written out in any detail are the beginning and end. Even then expect them to change before your eyes as you write, and that’s a good thing.
For characters, you want to develop them just enough to give them life, and then let them grow with the story. Understand who they are at the beginning of their journey, what is driving them or holding them back, and what relationships they might be a part of. You should also have a very general idea of how the character might change before the end of the story. The most important thing, much as with your plot points, is to expect them to change and grow as you write.
This also carries over to your settings. You should know the general idea of where the story takes place, but leave the details to discover as you go. The larger your story universe is, the more time you’ll want to spend on planning it out, but make sure to keep room for expansion.
Most importantly, planning your story in this way should not take a whole lot of time. Make it a goal to complete your Story Pulse in as little time as possible. This will differ for different writers, and different books, but try not to spend more than a day or two on planning things out.
The Magic of Story Pulse
As you start writing, you’ll notice a change in the way you write. It doesn’t matter if you were a hardcore outliner or pantser, you’ll feel both the creativity and the structure pushing you forward towards a better story.
One thing important to point out is that you’ll notice you’ve added, removed, or changed a lot from your Story Pulse within your writing, and that’s fine. In fact, that’s the point. You need to give in to this and let the story tell itself, let the characters live, and let the world change around you.
However, as tempting as it might be, it’s important to not alter your original Story Pulse, just let it be and move on. If you find yourself too far off track, reaching a point where you’re 40% of the way through writing and can’t see yourself using the other 60% of your notes, feel free to discard it all together and either let the story tell itself or write a new Story Pulse for that second half.
So, why do we have to choose between structure and creativity? The answer is you don’t. Writing your stories this way means you get the best of pantsings and outlining at the same time.
If you hadn’t figured it out by now, the person in the story above is me. The first time I used this method I had no idea what I’d done. I didn’t have a name for it or even any “rules”, but I knew one thing; I had never written such solid copy so fast in my life. I peaked around 4000 words an hour and knew that I’d never go back to either pantsing or outlining.
This is just a brief, high-level overview of the Story Pulse concept. It combines the creativity and flexibility of pantsing with the speed and direction of outlining. We’re developing the idea to integrate into everything we do here at Steam Powered Dreams, and that will include a lot more about it coming your way in the future.
What do you think of the Story Pulse concept? Let us know by leaving a comment!