Plotting v Pantsing.... by Debbie Bennett
So many blogs and facebook threads talk about plotting and planning – who does it and who doesn’t, and why….
So here’s my confession: I don’t plot. Ever.
Now you’ve recovered yourselves, I can hear you all shouting: What do you mean you don’t plot? All ‘proper’ writers plot. How do you know where you’re going?
Erm. I don’t. I have no idea where I am going. Maybe I’m not a proper writer then? Do I look like I care?
Look, I know a lot of people who plot their novels – hell, even short stories, I expect – to the nth degree. They outline each chapter, mark the high and low points, describe the story arc and the theme and the characters. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful to these writers – I’m pleased they can work that way and I wish them every success. Sometimes I long for the comfort of a story-plan, of knowing where I am going with a plot-strand and how far this particular tale has to run.
But I just can’t work like that. For me, it’s all about the journey, the discovery of the story, the characters revealing themselves to me piece by piece. If I know what’s going to happen next, then what’s the point in writing it? I lose interest and momentum and simply get bored. I like to find out what’s happening as it happens, occasionally almost in real-time.
And sometimes it pays off in that my subconscious kicks in and does the work for me. It makes me plant seeds for no reason and then delivers me the pay-off much later on. I’ve learned to trust it over the years, trust that all will become clear in time. My best lightbulb moment was a throwaway comment and a look that passed between two people, and suddenly I knew this guy’s backstory and his entire character made sense. It’s awesome.
I’ve just finished a novella - Rat's Tale - that I hope to have out in the next month or so, when I’ve finished editing and sorted a cover. But I wasn’t done with my anti-hero. Where’s he going to be now? So – and no spoilers here – I simply wrote an opening scene yesterday. A conversation between two people and within a few hundred words, I had an inkling of what was going to trigger this next story. I don’t know where it’s going to take me; I don’t know where it’s going to end or how I’m going to get there. But I know I’m going to have fun finding out.
I’m a pantser. And proud of it!
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I suspect that pantsing is more successful for some than others though: GRR Martin would appear to be a case in point ..
Sometimes, when I've written several scenes, I think: No, that's too obvious - or too neat - and I call on the great God Pantser for something a bit more out there...
But there's always a point, about half-way to three-parts through, when I'm in such a fog that I start making a plot-map... I sometimes wish I could get everything planned out. It would be a lot quicker and less exhausting.
The most famous pantser of all, Cesar Aira, never knew where anything was going and refused to let it worry him - he would always simply "write forward" from wherever he'd got to. I think sometimes if we know where we're going we can get there rather mechanically, even lumpenly. Not having a clue requires every paragraph to be fresh and original
I think a lot of it is down to your Myers Briggs personality type. Judging types need to plan - they can't not plan. Perceiving types, on the other hand, hate to plan and often can't do it. As you say, the destination is all that really matters. We just have our own way to get there.
I haven't a clue most of the time. I have a fair idea which characters are likely to open the first chapter but after that it's up to them how things turn out.
Probably that's why the other writers are well known!
And Valerie - I'm so glad Stacey fought back! - I really enjoy her character, and she's the perfect foil to Erica. Her alter-ego.
It's going to be one of those days.