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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Plotting or Pantsing

by Ann Lethbridge

I can't imagine that this topic hasn't been addressed before, so let us be clear, this is just my take on this subject.

I am a pantser. A flyer into the mist, as Jo Beverly says. I have tried to be a plotter. I did plot a complete book once, but I never even started writing it, or at least I had the first page done when I started plotting according to some grand scheme or other, and that is where it sits two years later. I was bored knowing how it all unfolded.

I have to keep going back to my mantra. Every writer is different. What works for one does not work for another.

Then why this article I hear you ask. Or is that me asking? Why bother? Well, to be honest, I just can't help thinking about this stuff.

Here's the thing - story is story. The art of writing story is as old as pictographs. There are certain things stories should have - at least in genre fiction. Certain peaks and valleys every story must touch. We've all taken the workshops, we all understand the concepts and the need for structure if you want readers to turn the pages. Hero's journey, W plotting, three act structure, six stage structure,  any advance on six -- do I hear a 9?  All great, by the way. Great. Helpful. Wonderful that writers have taken the time to offer these tools to other writers.

As far as I can figure it out, what a pantser does (no no there I go generalizing again) what I do, is go back and make sure the story hits the highs and lows required once the draft is done.

These are the questions I ask myself. What are my goals motivations and conflicts for the happy couple? Yes by this time they are the happy couple. Are they clear to the reader and not just in my head?

Where are my turning points? Did I take too long to get there? - thus losing tension along the way.

Is the black moment black enough? Is it driven by the romance or the external plot? Does it work?

For me, the key scene by scene test  is as follows:

What changed? Who is worse off now than at the beginning of the scene? If no one is, then it needs fixing. Could something even worse have happened? How does it tie back to their goal, their worst fear or their conflict. Is what they have decided to do next reasonable and does it lead to yet more conflict?

Are the motivations clear to the reader? In that particular scene, not the whole book.  Whatever the character does, is it clear why the character does it? And the answer cannot be that the plot requires that they do that. If the plot requires an unarmed woman to go into a dark basement for no good reason, the reader will not buy it.

Without plotting the book, don't you go off track?  That is a plotter asking, of course. 

The answer is. Yes. Terribly. The last book I handed in, well I just never did get hold of that sucker by the date it was due.  And that's where your editor and/or your critique group can help.  And that is why you need to go back and use the tools in your toolbelt  to polish and sand and rub.  Or at least I do. And I did. Hopefully it turned out much better.

Well that was fun. My guess is there are all kinds of writers out there:

Pl-antsers   -    they pants a bit and plot a bit, then pants a bit more then plot ....
Plo-sters    -    They get an outline going through to the end then fly off the cliff, catching the odd tree branch
                       they planted on the way down, then leap again
Palonstters -     who knows what they do, but they do it well

I wish to every success no matter how you spell what you are.


Blythe Gifford said...

Love your new definitions! I used to be a pantser and I'm now a pl-antser. I do find that keeping the overall structure/framework of the story in mind helps me know what to write next. But seriously, it's all magic. None of us knows exactly how it happens.

Blythe Gifford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Thanks Blythe

Kirsten Lynn said...

Ann, Great post. I am a panster all the way. I usually don't know what's going to happen until my character's tell me. I let them have free rein for the first draft then go back through and make sure all technical points are hit. Might be crazy, but it works.


Emma said...

I like 'plantser.' I do plot but, you know what they say--the best laid plans of mice and romance writers aft gang awry. (In my case, very 'awry!')