The Bad Shit List

If anyone knows me, they know that I have a foul mouth. So, I appologize now, because this, like me, is full of shit. However, this has saved my writing so many times that I thought I may put it here to help any others who have suffered as I have with “Outlines.” *Shudder*

So, what is the Bad Shit List (BSL)?

I am a pantser. I usually go from the start of a story with no real clue where the thing is going until I get there and type the last sentence. I did this for many a novel. However, on some, I kept getting lost, or kept getting to the point where I couldn’t keep focused. I had tried outlining many times in the past, and it never failed to make me shelve the story because I got bored. My subconscious said, “We already wrote the story. Sure, it was all in bullet points or another list format, but there are no surprises. Find something else to entertain us.”

For me, outlines take out the joy of writing. It takes out the surprise and suspense that makes me love to write, because I write what I want to read.

So. How do you do this? It’s pretty simple. The BSL is a list of bad things you want to have happen in your story. Nothing lengthy. I keep it to ten words maximum, preferrably less. The trick to this, is to leave out your book’s climax and resolution, and to not write down how the characters get out of the bad shit until you get there in your writing. If you make a BSL with one entry per chapter, leave the last three chapters blank as a type of reward to work toward.

Here’s an example from Climbing Shadetree. There are 33 chapters in the book, but because it would be a gigantic spoiler, I’ll only list a few for you to get the general idea.

  1. Amulet knocks Dustin out of his body.
  2. Trouble getting back to body.
  3.  Held prisoner by eccentric man.
  4. Amulet turning Dustin to elf. Can’t return to old life.
  5. Rogue bodyguard tries to kill Dustin from inside estate.
  6. Dustin knocked out by tranquilizer dart in school. Kidnapped.
  7. Fight between lover and enemy #1 over Dustin.
  8. –Climax rising
  9. –Climax cresting
  10. –Resolution

Normally, I don’t create a BSL. When I do, it is generally somewhere after the 30,000 word mark, when the story’s honeymoon phase is nearing it’s end, or when I know it will take me more than a month to write the book to completion. (Yes, it usually takes me under a month to write my first drafts.) By the 30k mark, I generally have a decent grasp of what the main conflict will be based upon what has already transpired. Knowing that, the BSL becomes a fun exercise to figure out the relevant kinds of tortures to put my poor characters through. Who doesn’t love torturing characters? *Cough*Evil author.*Cough* Ahem.

I have been told by some of my peers that the BSL is a type of outline. Please don’t tell my brain (or yours) that, because the very thought of an outline can kill a pantser’s muse faster than a toddler can completely destroy a room while you’re napping. What I consider an outline, is an ordered list comprising of: Goal, Characters, Stakes, Conflict, Twist, etc. I want to discover that when I get to it. By listing character torture options, bad things that are realistic for the story, and other such things, in 10 words or less, I can still be surprised by EVERY scene and chapter, which is why the BSL, to me, is not an outline.

Also, don’t get into the mindset that if you have a list, you have to stick to it. Reorder things. Delete things. Add things. Make things worse. But, if you’re a pantser in need of a little push or direction, the BSL may help haul your butt out of the rut when your muse is off watching obscene anime or ignoring you for any other reason. If the list makes your pantser self whine, write them down on a sheet of paper, cut them out, fold them up, and toss them into a bowl. When you get stuck, pick one and see if that jogs the muse. No? Put back in the bowl and pick another one. When you use one, toss it.

If you are an outliner looking for something a little less restrictive, I hope this helps you, too.

Have fun, and give me a poke if you need help making sense of my mental diarrhea. I’m so much better at fiction than I ever can be at explaining my writing methods.