This is an alternate cover edition of ASIN B00UKC0GHA
When it comes to writing books, are you a “plotter” or a “pantser?” Is one method really better than the other?
In this instructional ebook, author Libbie Hawker explains the benefits and technique of planning a story before you begin to write. She’ll show you how to develop a foolproof character arc and plot, how to pace any book for a can’t-put-down reading experience, and how to ensure that your stories are complete and satisfying without wasting time or words.
Hawker’s outlining technique works no matter what genre you write, and no matter the age of your audience. If you want to improve your writing speed, increase your backlist, and ensure a quality book before you even write the first word, this is the how-to book for you.
Take off your pants! It’s time to start outlining.
Libbie was born in Rexburg, Idaho and divided her childhood between Eastern Idaho's rural environs and the greater Seattle area. She presently lives in Seattle, but has also been a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah; Bellingham, Washington; and Tacoma, Washington. She loves to write about character and place, and is inspired by the bleak natural beauty of the Rocky Mountain region and by the fascinating history of the Puget Sound.
After three years of trying to break into the publishing industry with her various books under two different pen names, Libbie finally turned her back on the mainstream publishing industry and embraced independent publishing. She now writes her self-published fiction full-time, and enjoys the fact that the writing career she always dreamed of having is fully under her own control.
Libbie's writerly influences are varied, and include Vladimir Nabokov, Hilary Mantel, Annie Dillard, George R. R. Martin, songwriter Neko Case, and mixed-media storyteller Chris Onstad, to name but a few.
She previously wrote under the pen name L.M. Ironside (historical fiction).
Great book. I sold the first novel of a trilogy, but was really stuck on writing book 2. (I'd been trying to pants it) I was looking for a book on plotting and a friend recommended this to me. I'm so glad I bought it!
What I loved:
- It was strictly nuts and bolts. It was a hands-on "how-to" without too much theory or fluff. (As a writer of some years, I've read plenty on theory, I was just looking for something to get me un-stuck)
- Short/to the point. I read it in one sitting
- Gets you working right away. She discusses one aspect of her outline process, then says, "ok, let's tackle this right now," and shows you how. Then, she goes on to the next. By the end of reading the book I'd already formed a broad outline for books 2 and 3
- Well-organized and well-written
I found myself taking notes as I went, to refer to later. Honestly,I don't have a single complaint about this book, and I would recommend it to every writer I know.
Full disclosure would be admitting that the majority of the stories/books I have written (or attempted to write) remain unfinished. Most of these endeavors ended up in an accidental scrap heap because something didn’t feel right, and I wasn’t sure how to fix the problem plaguing each work.
That is, until I stumbled across Libbie Hawker’s “Take Off Your Pants” (thanks to David Gaughran, who noted this book in his third edition of “Let’s Get Digital”).
Ms. Hawker’s book is an eye-opener. Previous books and articles I have read on outlining recommended some of the material presented here, although in different and definitely more clinical form. Each time I read one of these manuals, my nightmare visions encompassed large tables filled with index cards that would be filled with scribbles about each chapter and subchapter. While I recognized I needed some sort of procedure, this method seemed so dry and I have never been able to struggle past the point of unwrapping the package of index cards.
“Take Off Your Pants” (a reference to writing by the seat of your pants) walks you through the process Ms. Hawker uses to create her books. Her basic outline begins with the Story Core, supported by Character Arc, Theme, and Pacing. She then slowly walks you through an easy-to-understand method, one she has personally used to write successful books in less than a month. Once you’ve read this book, it would be easy to flip through to review and apply the knowledge of each chapter to your own work.
The end result, an outline of your book, characters, theme, pacing, and other ancillary items, still leaves you with a lot of wiggle room for creativity. In other words, you now know exactly where you are going with your story. All that’s left is to breathe life into your story and characters. This book is an excellent tool to help writers reach the goal of presenting a compelling story that readers can’t put down. Five stars.
My recent reading slump combined with difficulties in plantsing my book led me to step away from fiction and writing to pick up a book on craft.Take Off Your Pants! has some great tips I'm definitely going to implement in my outlines, and I found it to be a quick but insightful read I'll be able to reference again and again.
The author's voice rubbed me the wrong way at times as she came off a bit patronizing, however this was not because she uses her own book as an example for her outlining process. She put work into outlining her book with this method, so it didn't bother me that she included it as an example for writers to understand her points.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and it definitely gave me a lot to think about when it comes to my own writing. I'm hoping to pick up more books on craft in the coming weeks, so I'd love your recommendations if you have any!
I see no reason why characters (and stories) built the way Hawker details would be any more compelling than those done differently.
Not every protagonist needs to start out with a flaw. Nor needs every protagonist be seriously flawed to have me care for them. A character's journey needs not overcome a personal flaw either. It can simply be an actual journey. And what is a huge tell that Hawker started out as a fanfic writer: not every character without serious flaws is a Mary Sue.
I also was quite taken aback by her using her own novels as examples of good writing. For one thing I haven't read many of her books, and for another I expect any sort of writing guide to be at least literate enough to give well-known and easily available samples of undisputed and undisputable literary quality. Gutenberg.org is your friend there. As it is, using her own work as shining examples comes across as a slightly skeevy plug for sales.
On the whole this booklet didn't do what it promised. It didn't show me a good method to outline or motivate me much to switch from pantsing to outlining. Which is what I read it for: as a guide towards a good method for outlining without losing the freshness of the chase.
Useful book in terms of making you think more carefully about the construction of your book with two caveats: 1. Hawker uses her Pocahontas book as an example but never mentions that the book was already worked out to a great extent before she started doing her outline. By which I mean that when she comes to do the outline it's plain that this book hasn't suddenly popped into her mind, an impression she gives early on when she tells the publisher she can produce her next book in a few weeks. 2. I'm not entirely convinced that a main character has to have a flaw in order for them to have an arc. There's a strong school of thought that the main character has to want something greatly, and that during the course of reaching their goal their lives may change; whether they start with a flaw or not is another matter altogether. I think books can be written from both the 'flaw' perspective' and the 'major desire' perspective. And then of course there are extremely bestselling books like the Jack Reacher series (or to go back generations, Bertie Wooster and Jeeves) in which in book after book the main character barely changes at all. Those sorts of books seem to me to be constructed on a different method altogether...but I'm willing to be proved wrong.
20.2.19 Read this book again, and worked my way through it in relation to a book I've been struggling to write for some time. More helpful this time round, though there are still some things I need to work out that even Libbie can't help me with!
I picked up Take Off Your Pants! in some deal or the other because I’d heard that it was popular, and I’d say its popularity is justified. I’m groping toward my own perfect outlining method and consequently paying attention to what’s worked for other people. You have to understand that all books about writing say essentially the same things, but they all say those things differently enough that you either end up confused or you gather together lots and lots of ideas and then arrive at a solution that’s never quite like anyone else’s but works for you. And THEN you write a book about it . . . .
So yeah, this is a book about plotting à la Libbie Hawker, and she starts off by telling us how totally awesome she is because she can rip out a first draft in three weeks on the basis of her totally awesome outline:
The story was sound and whole, with a fascinating central character and a compelling plot—the kind you can’t look away from. Even in outline form, the story felt complete, with a clear set of problems for the main character to tackle, rising tension . . . and an ending that felt deeply satisfying . . . .
That, for me, was a bad beginning to an otherwise fairly good book, because there’s nothing that awakens the Snark Monster faster than an author telling you how amazing their books are. Plus using their own books as Examples of Awesomeness while explaining their methods. It’s a dangerous ploy, because your reader probably doesn’t have the same reading tastes as you (naturally we all write what we like to read), so your examples can really fall flat.
Then there’s a discussion of the plotter vs. pantser vs. plotser debate I’ve heard oh, so many times and really didn’t need to hear again. I totally agree that IF your business model is built on high-volume output, your goal is to make mucho dinero, and you’re the kind of writer who sees a story as going one way only, you should train yourself to outline each and every novel. And I also agree that the best novels have a strong underlying structure, which is why I’m reading a bunch of plotting books right now. And yet I have my reservations about the trend in indie publishing toward chasing the money with fast-written books aimed squarely at the market. Aren’t we becoming too like the traditional publishing world we turned our backs on? And frankly, although Ms. Hawker is no doubt a fine writer, many aren’t, and need to spend more time exploring and experimenting rather than turning themselves into writing machines. I don’t think these are the people she’s aiming at, but they WILL read her book and expect to be earning a gazillion dollars by Christmas.
Anyhow, then comes the meat of the book. It’s a fairly straightforward exposition of what I always think of as the top-down method of plotting, where you start with some very general considerations and then drill down to the details. It reminds me of what I’ve heard about Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction, although I’ve yet to read that one. Hawker draws on famous novels, her own work and some invented examples to illustrate what she’s talking about. Mercifully, she doesn’t go off on as many tangents as books on writing so often do, and deserves considerable credit for resisting that temptation. The hero’s journey raises its head, inevitably since we’re really talking about genre writing of the more straightforward kind here. And then we have the whole business of beats—personally I think all good writers do beats, but they call it a first draft and they’re ready to rewrite it. This business of writing out the mechanics of a scene before you write the scene itself deprives the writer of those “flow” moments that can happen even at the first draft stage. My own feeling is that every rewrite of a scene should be an attempt to render the scene itself, not just the mechanics. You probably won’t get it right at first, but that’s what second drafts are for.
On the whole, I found Hawker’s advice to be a useful exposition of information that I’ve heard all over the place. Her ability to stay focused on what she’s telling the reader is a blessing, and for that alone I’d recommend the book to a writer looking for a method to hang a plot on. It’s simple and straightforward, and keeps some important elements of story structure in mind. Whether your book will be totally awesome if you follow her advice will depend on how much time you’ve spent writing and on how much more learning you’ve done.
Verdict: good for the already experienced writer who needs to think more seriously about structure.
A very nice and short book about plotting your story. I'd recommend writers who struggle with outlining and who get lost in their stories halfway through to take a look at this.
Helpful book, might change a pantsers opinion on plotting. But ultimately it's very short and not much new information to be found for people who have read a lot about the craft already.
I've re-read this after writing seriously and almost every day for another two years, and I must say, the information is a great refresher all around, especially now that I'm considering to plot more. I just keep an entire drawer of half written works, never finished, because I lose my way.
Another attempt at plotting begins for this pantser.
Um excelente guia para escritores planejadores, aqueles que preferem planejar tim tim por tim tim cada uma das cenas de sua história. Sintético, direto ao ponto, e bem prático.
Gostei muito da metáfora dos triângulos invertidos para as cenas, acho que foi a primeira vez que vi. É o seguinte, a maioria das cenas de uma narrativa deveria começar com o estabelecimento da situação ou do conflito que se desenvolverá na cena, é o lado "largo" do triângulo. E deve ir se "apertando", reduzindo as opções e as escolhas dos seus participantes até a "ponta" do triângulo invertido, onde o conflito gera uma consequência/gancho que leva ao próximo triângulo. De gancho em gancho de faz uma narrativa que não se consegue parar de ler. Muito legal!
A autora também aborda vários outros temas, como arco de personagens, como criar sumários da trama e ir expandindo ainda na faze de planejamento do livro, etc. Recomendo para todos que gostam de planejar detalhadamente as histórias que vão escrever, ou que queiram analisar as estruturas das histórias que já escreveram! :D
I don't usually leave reviews (only ratings so I know what books I read and when, and what I thought of them), but I feel bad leaving an "it was okay" rating.
I thought there wasn't enough support for the claims in the book. There was no analysis of books/movies that didn't have the Story Core and did poorly. And no attempt to find stories that were missing some or all of these elements, yet still did well (Zombie Fallout, The Martian).
And finally, there was no evidence presented that writing a story in this way would produce a successful one--a successful story able to fit into a certain structure doesn't imply that the structure itself was responsible for the story's success.
To be fair, books like Save the Cat and Story have similar problems: none are scientific, instead relying on anecdote and narrative fallacy (the latter of which I didn't notice in this book, however).
I bought this book because it was cheap proposed to be a guide to outlining, which I dearly need to learn. Turns out the author has a few assumptions about what makes a good story and requires the reader to agree with those assumptions in order to use her method. Thus, if you're not interested in: * Writing heroic journeys into your story; * Writing characters with a gigantic flag signaling their flaws; * Basing your entire story into your character's quest to be "perfect" (as in, get rid of that conveniently signaled flaw). Then this book will be useless for you.
On the plus side, her advice on pacing out scenes seems solid and her method might actually be useful for someone writing an actual heroic journey. Also, she never used the word "primal", for which I'm grateful.
Incredibly helpfull! Well written steps for an outline with detailed to the point information. Helps get you working fast with lots of wiggle room in the outline structure for change and growth of your plot.
I wish I'd bought this is paperback instead of Kindle version. It's GOOD. I think it will work for many writers. When I wrote and published "Annabelle," this was strictly writing by the seat of my pants. So is my second book...but that seems to have deserted me. So, I'm going to give this baby a shot. The only reason this is not rated 5 starts, it it's so darn hard to go back and forth on a Kindle. I've yet to figure out making notes on that thing. I love my Kindle for reading...for reference it's harder.
Regardless, this is a good book. I think it will be a challenge to try this system, as it makes a lot of sense.
Hawker's optimistic and relentlessly positive approach was just what I needed today (note to self: what do you expect if you keep reading depressing books?). I've got a misbehaving plot, and Hawkin's gave me exactly what I wanted -- a fresh perspective on it and some guidelines for sorting it out. I have got most of an outline and a much better feeling about my story.
This system might work for the author but I think it's too inflexible for most people. I thought some of the references to the writer's own work came off as a bit pretentious also. Skip this book and read one of the million other books written on outlining.
If you're serious about a career writing fiction, Take Off Your Pants is a must-have reference tool. Buy the paperback version--it will become a handy reference each time you outline a new book. My only regret is that I didn't discover this gem years ago, at the beginning of my career.
Hawker's step-by-step approach to outlining (based on The Story Core) will aid you in quickly drilling down to the essentials of your plot, and speed up the manuscript's development phase. Which will then speed up the writing and publishing phases. What's not to love?
As a typical pantster, I bought this book in the hope that it would help organise my planning - or rather lack of. I took it with me on a writers' retreat and found it useful in so much as it guides you through a method of plotting that leaves the story flexible enough for the writer to change things as they go along.This suited me fine as I've always found it difficult to write if I know how the story ends. This way there is no chance of getting bored before you finish writing your story and there's room to incorporate those last minute changes that characters inflict on an author without detouring from the main story. Useful and I will try it out for my next book. Hopefully it will save hours of revisions later.
I'll write a more comprehensive review later, but I read this earlier this year and just forgot to mark it. It's a decent guide to outlining and plotting stories, albeit quite short. I still liked the methodology and expansion that Libbie Hawker provided in this, but I'll admit that there were some narratives in the same vein that I've gotten more out of than this one.
3 to 3.5 stars. Need to meditate over my full reactions for it, but nonetheless added to my writing library.
Like many authors, I’ve worked my way through all manner of craft books in an attempt to streamline my process and make it easier to convince a reluctant muse to give up the story for whatever project I happen to be working on. From Million Dollar Outlines to On Writing to Writing the Breakout Novel and beyond, every one of them offered valuable insights on how to proceed, but none of them helped me convince that stubborn muse to loosen her grip. As I discuss in today's book review, Take Off Your Pants! By Libbie Hawker may have done just that.
By The Power Of Greysk…Tone! Like On Writing, Take Off Your Pants! speaks to the reader in a conversational tone that lets the education you’re receiving sneak up on you and lodge itself in your grey matter while you feel that you’re receiving an entertaining lecture from a favorite teacher. In fact, by the time you’ve learned about the three-legged outline and the importance of your character’s flaw, you feel ready to launch yourself into the sky, leaving a trail of rainbows and brilliant prose in your wake.
Of course, like any undertrained superhero who doesn’t actually know how to fly, you’re more likely to splat against a wall like Wile E. Coyote than you are to suddenly discover your inner Shakespeare. (Little-known fact: Shakespeare moonlighted as a superhero called The Tempest. No, really, look it up). But if you can keep reading and not rush off to fight crime write your masterpiece, that powerful sense of…um…empowerment…will help get you over that total lack of confidence responsible for word-paralysis among author-kind.
Something Old, Something New, Something Something, Something With Words As I said a few inches above, I’ve gone through a lot of craft books over the years. If you’ve also read through the entire shelf on writing in the bookstore, there is going to be a lot of familiar ground that you will recognize as you make your way across the landscape of Hawker’s book. But you’ll also come across quite a bit of new snippets of information, golden acorns of writerly goodness that might make you shout, “Eureka!” if you were inclined to do such a thing.
Even though there is quite a bit of similar material as other books, the way Hawker breaks it down and presents it to the reader shaves off the intimidating edges and leaves with you plush, friendly instructions that you can snuggle with while you make up stories of mayhem and destruction. The presentation is excellent, and it brings everything together in a way that’s easy to understand and apply.
You Can Keep Your Pants On (Or Not) I’m going to risk a brief sojourn into the DMZ between the Republic of Pantsers and the Plotter Kingdom to explain how Hawker addresses the never-ending battle between writers that has raged since two cavemen disagreed about how to tell the others about how they caught that totally awesome caribou they’re dragging back to the cave until they were both eaten by prehistoric wolves. At the risk of betraying my own allegiance to the Plotters, I have to say that Hawker bridged the divide with as much diplomacy as is possible.
While she does focus on a few aspects that she deems critical to a cohesive, successful story (a major flaw, a character arc trying to overcome it, seventeen bottles of wine, etc), she there is no absolute insistence that every little thing needs to be plotted to death ahead of time. Plenty of room is left for writers to enjoy their pants as much as they want. On the other hand, if you prefer to write sans-trousers, she outlines (get it?) a method to get everything down ahead of time so you can breeze through your first draft with all due speed.
Triangles. Lots of Triangles This method is primarily based on the concept of plot being structured like an inverted triangle, with individual chapters and scenes broken down into smaller triangles that you stuff into the bigger ones like so many slices of literary pie. This is a great way of describing the theory of limiting options and driving the character towards the goal, but I don’t feel that enough time was spent on how to actually accomplish this.
While this doesn’t prevent it from still being an excellent book, it does mean that it’s not the One Outlining Book to rule them all, and you will still need to supplement with other books to get a good grasp on three-act structure, different plot shapes, and how best to lay out your actual plot once you have the story down. It's not a huge criticism, but it bears noting.
Please, Miss, May I Have Some More? At just about every step of the way, Hawker provides examples of the device she is describing. Most of these examples focus on Lolita, Charlotte’s Web, and her own book, Tidewater. These examples go a long way toward helping you understand how to apply what she’s talking about, but including a few more would have been very helpful, especially toward the end of the book when she gets into plotting and pacing.
Take Off Your Pants! is by no means the perfect outlining book. It takes a number of familiar concepts and presents them in a friendly, actionable way that empowers the writer and makes you feel like this whole writing thing is easy. While it could use some additional examples and an expanded section on the actual plotting portion, there is something in it for everyone, and it has become by far my favorite book on outlining. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the muse is smiling at me and playing with a cootie catcher. I think she wants to tell me a story.
For someone who has only ever "pantsed" a book, this was a real eye opener. There is plenty of valuable information in this and it will make a difference to how I write. I only purchased the ebook version, but for anyone else planning on buying this book, I think the paperback version would be better value. I am now going to order the paperback version for future reference.
I’ve always been a pantser i.e writing my fiction by the seat of my pants and refusing to plan. I felt planning would disrupt the flow of creativity, but increasingly I’ve been becoming frustrated by my lack of progress and felt planning may be the key to changing this. Time will tell if it’ll work, but I have already begun to implement the advice here and will let you know in a future post if it’s been successful.
I first became interested in Libbie Hawker when she was featured on a YouTube channel I watch, being interviewed by Joanne Penn. She described a method of planning which doesn’t curb your creativity and means you can write at a much quicker speed. She said that she wrote a 100,000 word manuscript in three weeks using this method!
The book is quite short at just 108 pages, but this is all that was really needed to convey the point.
She outlines a method that has the protagonist’s flaw at the core. After deciding on the flaw the writer then considers the protagonists external goal, antagonist and ally. Every chapter is geared around this internal flaw and follows an inverted triangle formula with each of these characters driving the narrative
She then went on to list what scenes should appear in the novel, such as the opening scene, inciting event, display of flaw etc. The idea is that if the novel includes these it will follow a pattern that is the mainstay of good fiction and because the writer just has a general idea of what happens in these scenes, creativity still has plenty of room to play out.
As I said, I’ve begun implementing this in my current novel. Time will tell if it speeds up my writing.
Some good points made here—I particularly agree with her argument that only scenes that actually do something belong in the book—but I found her approach somewhat rigid.
Look, I'm a plotter, so I wasn't reading to be convinced; I read this book as research for a class I'm putting together. I like Hawker's approach generally, although it felt restrictive. I decided to use her structure to outline a book I'm planning to see what would happen, and sometimes I agreed with her approach, and sometimes I thought, "But this doesn't apply to my book." And her plot structure could work well for some writers, but Save the Cat handled that better, in my opinion. (Hawker also lost me when she started talking about scenes as inverted triangles.)
I think if you're new to outlining or dread the ones you made in school with roman numerals and the whole thing, this could be an approach that works for you. I found generally that Hawker made some excellent points and some not so strong ones, leaving this book kind of a mixed bag of writing advice. Worth reading for the good points, but have a critical eye.
This craft book is clear, concise, and eye-opening. Basic premise: Outline your novel using your main character’s flaw as a jumping off point and central focus, since “story” is all about a protagonist’s emotional journey. So smart, right? With the exception of Save the Cat, Take Off Your Pants is the most helpful “how to write” book I’ve read. I had so many duh moments, and took tons of notes. It’s a quick read with straight-forward, easily applicable suggestions that just make sense. Libbie Hawker’s advice applies to all fiction, from picture books to literary tomes. Big recommend if you’re working on honing your plotting skills, like me.
Interesting perspective on outlining a novel. I think most writers will find some useful information in this easy-to-read "how to." I'm not sure, however, that it wouldn't be a crutch for an inexperienced writer to turn out a mediocre book. The writing process is not uniform from writer to writer or even project to project. It's a bit formulaic for my process. I understand the want to write faster, but I hesitate to encourage someone who needs this kind of instruction to use it in place of discovering what it takes to write with a little more research, depth, and exploration.
As a classic and devoted pantser, I wrote my first five books with this method. However, my current work in progress clearly needs a structure so that the copious research ahead has a place to go. So reluctantly, I admitted that I had to plot it. I turned to TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS and it is amazing!! I feel like I have real direction and that my WIP will be better served by thinking through the details so thoroughly. I am going to reference this book with all my future writing.
I really like to read so I'm interested in how my favorite authors put their stories together. This was an interesting read where the bare bones of the novel is revealed. The author claims that a full outline can be written in as little as 4 hours. I think I'd like to play around doing something with this, not to actually write a novel but this would be the fun part part of writing a novel.