I should be writing my conference paper right now, but since I’m sick of looking at it – and since I’ve already eaten WAY too much of the chocolate I scored for my birthday – I thought I’d procrastinate with a blog post instead. Picking a topic at random from my stuff-to-blog-about-one-day list, I ended up with… *drumroll* Pantsers versus Plotters!
Most writers probably know what these things mean, but for anyone who doesn’t, “pantsing” refers to writing a story off the top of your head, with no idea where it will end up, while “plotting” refers to planning out the whole story before you start writing it; perhaps with detailed character descriptions or an outline of what will happen over the course of the book.
Mentioning the plotters versus pantsers debate is often a good way to stir up writers. The pantsers feel that having an outline stifles their creativity and that knowing where the story will go takes all the fun out of writing it. Plotters, on the other hand, tend to flounder if they don’t have a plan to fall back on when they get stuck, and prefer to have more control over how the story plays out.
I’ve discovered that I’m a plotter. The first serious writing project I worked on was Exile, a high fantasy trilogy. I had the idea for the main character one day and started writing the first book, making it up as I went along. While I did my writing diploma, I bumbled my way through the story, writing the first six chapters in roughly chronological order. Once I hit the start of chapter seven, I realised that I didn’t know where the main character would go next… And then I got stuck. I made fairly weak attempts at planning her next move, and orchestrated increasingly far-fetched scenarios to steer the story on, and then I started wondering if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. At that point, the story more or less died; discouraged by what I saw as an epic failure, I didn’t write at all for about a year.
One day I had the idea for a short dark fantasy story after stumbling across some random song. Once I had written it, I realised that it had the potential to be so much more. But this time, instead of just diving straight into writing, I began to write an outline for the novella that would eventually become my current work in progress; Dark and Silent Waters. Sure, the outline has since been tweaked to within an inch of its life, but knowing roughly where I wanted the story to go, how the characters would develop and the atmosphere and themes that would run through the story have helped me to stay focused on writing it. With an outline, the goal of completing a first draft seems more manageable. I’ve always had the outline to act as scaffolding and give me ideas for what I can do next when I hit a wall. And, if I couldn’t write the next chronological chapter, I was able to jump ahead and write a different chapter; I figured that it didn’t matter where the words went, as long as I was putting them down. I know some writers can and prefer to write in a linear fashion, but I just can’t work like that; I tend to bounce around within the story like a demented yo-yo on a sugar-high.
Right now I have my prologue, epilogue and a few random chapters in between completed. My word count is at just over 20,000 words out of an estimated 80,000. I’ve also recently started working on an outline for my Exile trilogy, in the hopes that I’ll be able to go back to it once I’ve finished my novella and actually make some progress with it.
What about other writers out there? Are you pantsers or plotters or somewhere in between?