Thursday, August 25, 2011

Plotter or Pantser

Plotter- those who plot things out.
Pantser- those who fly by the seat of their pants.

Not the legal definition I’m sure, but ever wonder which method produces more successful authors? Do the methodical win out over the spontaneous? I have to say, I’ve been curious about the breakdown. Do more writers get published who rely on careful planning or do the ones who wing it triumph?
Don’t mistake me. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer for this. Everyone has their own style whether it involves outlines and pages of notes or a shot in the dark. Both ways can produce amazing results.

Being too lazy to try and discover what method famous authors’ favor, I can only tell you about unpublished me. As you might guess from the comment above, I’m a pantser. My current work in progress began with only the opening scene in my head and not much more. But is that the whole story?

I think there is more to being a pantser than meets the eye. Although I don’t write anything down, that doesn’t mean I don’t plan. I usually spend days just thinking before I type a word. Generally, I have the whole chapter in my mind and even a direction for what happens down the road. It’s the details with dialogue or setting that usually spring out of nowhere, not the plot itself.
And I have been known to digress, to delve into the world of a plotter. On my opening chapter, I jotted down everything I wanted the chapter to achieve. Opening chapters have to be such workhorses that I didn’t want to leave anything out. And when I got to the ending chapters, I was petrified. How could I wrap up all the details and bring everything together without forgetting a major part? I couldn’t decide in what direction I wanted to take the ending. Who should live and who should die? When to reveal what? I started noting down key items to remember. And that spread to include more and more elements until I had—gasp—a crazy mixed up mess in no order at all.
I began to color code the mess. Items in red were open threads that I hadn’t decided how to resolve. Items in orange were already written and finished. Items in green were resolved in my head, but not written in the ms. Blue items were things I might include, but maybe not. As I got through chapter after chapter, the red parts turned green and finally orange. The blue words disappeared. My notes ended up being amazingly helpful. Who knew!
Would I ever work out an outline for an entire novel ahead of time? I’m way too lazy. Will I use a crazy mess of a system to aid my memory? That’s for sure.
All in all, it doesn’t matter a hill of beans how you get the job done. What matters is maintaining the pace and making sure the plot stays firmly at center stage. No outline in the world will keep you from letting the characters yack about unimportant matters or descriptions from going on forever. Writers have to be able to judge that from experience.
And where do you get experience when you aren’t published? Reading. Reading. Reading. Reading other published novels can teach you about pacing. It’s the example to follow to make sure every chapter advances the plot and isn’t a limp, useless biscuit of rambling.
What say we have our own informal poll? Don’t deny it, we’re all curious. We want to know what floats the other one’s boat. Plotter or pantser? How far do you take preparedness? Or avoid it?

1 comment:

  1. I'm a pantser. Now, I do outline AFTER I've written, to make sure everything stays straight...



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