Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Are You a Plotter, Pantser, Or Something Else?

We’re half way through NaNo and, as expected, I’m behind on my word count. No surprise there – I’m a slow writer – but changing the plot five days into NaNo didn’t help either.

What’s more important is that I’ve learned something about my writing process. In my first book (which is still a work in progress, BTW), the plot, subplots, and characters changed over and over again during the first couple of years. I figured this was probably just a natural consequence of having never written a story before, along with the fact that I hadn’t bothered to plot anything out beforehand.

One thing I did learn during those two years of revisions was that I was a plotter at heart. Story structure makes so much sense to me these days, I can’t write without it. So for my NaNo story, I outlined the whole thing ahead of time. Plot points, the midpoint reversal, the “all is lost” moment – yep, it was all right there. None of this “I’ll worry about that stuff later” attitude. So when November 1st rolled around, I was sure the writing process would go more smoothly this time.

Yeah, right.

After five days of writing I was ready to change the plot…
and some of the characters…
and most of the scenes.

Just like my first book. Arrrg!

So what have I learned in the last two weeks? That no matter how carefully I outline a story beforehand, the real story ideas don’t occur to me until I’m actually putting words down on paper. I may begin a project as a plotter, but I have to switch to pantser mode when I’m write. Then, after all these new ideas come pouring in, I have to switch back to plotter mode in order to fit them into the story. And then I switch back to pantser mode again and continue to write. Back and forth. Over and over again.

I feel like Jekyll and Hyde. I’m not a plotter or a pantser. I’m a plotser.

So which one are you?

17 comments:

  1. Ha! I love this!

    I'm such a pantser... Plotting for some reason takes the magic out of it for me... it's the unknown that makes it fun... the blank pages ahead that make me want to write so I can find out what the story is...

    Though I know writers who can only plot! So I think it's great that you can flip back and forth--you've got to know your groove and go with it, I think. And once you embrace it, then you're on your way!

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    1. My hat's off to you. I wouldn't be able to pants my way out of a bag if I didn't already have a good idea where I was going. The fact that I wind up heading in a totally unplanned direction after all that plotting is what makes writing fun for me.

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  2. Very much a plotter. The outline for my current manuscript took over four months to create to my satisfaction. (On the plus side, the entire story only took two months for the first draft and I'll finish the edits in less than three.)

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    1. Up until the last week, I considered myself very much a plotter too, and couldn't even conceive of trying to pants my way through a story. I'm still a plotter, but pantsing around is apparently a necessary step for my imagination to work best.

      I wish I could finish my edits in three months. Right now I'm shooting more for three years.

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  3. I spent 10 minutes today getting ideas from my critique group for what my new mid-point low should be because the last one came out of nowhere while I was pantsing and now the character that caused the physical/mental disaster is out of the book. I've been trying for the last two months to figure out what will happen instead and get nothing beyond vague ideas until I sit down and type. Lucky for me, the 3/4 point (which I forgot the name of but they figure out what needs to change to succeed) will be almost the same as before. I hope it's not cheating if I take that away with another reversal. I did put in my plot-clock points for the next two or three books, but that was before I changed this one so much the others will have to change too. That's as far as I can go with planning. I wish I could switch like you do. Maybe someday.

    I'm glad you're still working on NaNo. Even if you're behind, you'll end up with much more than you had at the start.

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    1. I wish I could just skip the pantsing part and stick with plotting and writing. I'm more comfortable with those techniques and it would allow me to come up with more ideas during those times I'm away from the keyboard.

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  4. Hi Ken:
    You and I talked about this at the LFL launch. I've tried plotting and had the same experience you have had. Listen, I agree with what has been said. Do what works for you. I find that once I write the scene I do have to sit down and figure out the best way to torture my characters next. Should I fire bomb the tattoo parlor? Kill off Marcus? I guess what I'm doing is a long winded outline. I'm not worrying about character's names yet (one is Dorkman, the other is Lastname), or whether a shot gun blast with bird shot would drive back two thugs. I have friends who hunt who can straighten that out once I decide the scene is going to make it into the final project. I am very jealous of plotters like Alex because it appeals so much to my sense of order. But then the other side of my brain rebels. Sigh. Anyway, keep going my friend and kick some Nano butt. In the end it doesn't matter how you get there, just do it! See you at the next writer's group meeting!

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    1. Hitting the right balance between plotting and pantsing can be tricky. I've always considered myself a plotter, but apparently my muse enjoys pantsing a little. Thanks for commenting.

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  5. This is so true and I'm the exact same way. To combat this, I try to just loosely plot and leave lots of room for creativity while writing. For some reason, our characters always seem to have their own ideas of where the story should go :)

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    1. I may end up having to do something like that, Juliana. But to be honest, my outline was already pretty loosely plotted. I'm beginning to wonder if the method I used on my first book - write a bunch of scenes and then stitch them together afterwards - is my natural mode of writing. Sounds scary. Thanks for the comment.

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  6. A plotser? LOL I love that. You may well have company. For my stuff, it seems that I must plot out milestones, things that must happen for the ending to make sense and be credible. Beyond that, I just follow my characters around like a scribe.

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    1. My biggest worry is that I'll never finish a story using this technique. I'm three and a half years into my story on Hogwarts and I'm still coming with new things for the characters to do. At some point I just have to say enough is enough.

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    2. I agree that there does come a point when additional plot, character and setting ideas have to be deferred to a subsequent book, but I think you'll probably instinctively know when that is.

      I worked on The Bonding for a couple years then let it sit for probably ten years before resuming work on it late last year. I'm plotting book two now and keep wondering if I'm going to want to do something I rendered impossible from the first book. So fleshing it out up front is a wise choice.

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    3. I think when I plot out my next book, I'll spend a fair amount of time writing many of the scenes first. That's when my best ideas show up. Since NaNo doesn't allow one to write any of the story before November, my October outline turned out to be pretty weak.

      BTW, how goes progress on "The Bonding?"

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    4. That's what I'm doing right now with book 2. Plotting and drafting at the same time. As for The Bonding, it's in "final" form...you did note the use of quotes, right? LOL

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