Thursday, 23 January 2020

A Plotter, a Pantser, Perhaps a Plantser by @EdenBaylee

For my first blog with the esteemed writers of Authors Electric, I’d like to share something about myself as a writer. I won’t bore you with my personal history, my likes and dislikes, shoe size, etc. Almost anything you want to know about me is on my website if you’re curious enough (except maybe the shoe size).

I’ll address something that is not always evident about most writers, and that is … are they plotters or pantsers?

Let me explain the difference.

A plotter researches a book before writing it, laying out an overview with major plot points. Plotters know what will happen at the beginning, middle, and end of the book. Character sketches are usually part of the outline.



R.L. Stine: “If you do enough planning before you start to write, there's no way you can have writer's block. I do a complete chapter by chapter outline.”




John Grisham:  “I've learned that the more time I spend on the outline the easier the book is to write. And if I cheat on the outline I get in trouble with the book.”








A pantser, on the other hand, is a writer who has a vague idea of a story and begins writing by the seat of his or her pants. There is no framework. The characters take over, and the author records the events as they unfold.





Margaret Atwood: "When I'm writing a novel, what comes first is an image, scene, or voice ... The structure or design gets worked out in the course of the writing. I couldn't write the other way round, with structure first. It would be too much like paint-by-numbers."










Stephen King: "Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters' theses." 


Ouch! Stephen King can be such a meanie.

Obviously, both methods have their advocates.

As for me, I’m a devoted pantser.

I jump in and start writing the moment an idea enters my head. Research and the development of details such as setting, timelines, names and ages of characters are done as I’m writing the story, and not before. Though I’m capable of creating a rough outline before I begin a story, it quickly goes off track once I’m at my keyboard. I can’t keep my pantsy nature in check. 

It's just how my brain is wired.

I'm definitely a right-brained pantser

If being a pantser sounds scary to you—it’s scary for me too at times. Imagine taking a road trip without a map or a destination. I simply pack my bags, get in the car, and drive as long as I'm able to see in front of me. Eventually, I'll know when I’ve arrived.

I do, however, jot down notes along the way to figure out how the plot resolves, so even though the initial draft is written by the seat of my pants, rewrites and edits help organize the story. Somehow, it all comes together in the end, but I might not get there for awhile. (I'm working on this part!).

I’d guess that even the most avid plotters must remain flexible, which means they have to listen to their characters and alter the original outline if needed.

I’m by no means an “anti-plotter” like Stephen King. His genius rests with putting his characters in difficult situations and observing what crops up. Because he never plans to rescue them, something awful usually happens. That’s when his stories come to life.

A scene from Stephen King's The Shining

As writing is an iterative process, it’s fair to assume that most writers mix in elements of both plotting and pantsing, or plantsing (I made up this word, but it's probably been used before!). Each iteration or draft should be better than the previous one. As such, whether an author is a plotter or a pantser is not that important for readers to know.

All they want is a good story, and that can be accomplished by both.

How about you? Do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser, or have you found a way to straddle both in your writing, so maybe a plantser? 😉


Thanks for reading. 
Feel free to ask questions or leave a comment. 

I'd love to hear from you,

eden 

22 comments:

Jacques said...

I'm songwriter, not a book writer but I recognize some similarities. I may see the beginning and the end and fill in the rest to piece it together. Then I may find an irresistible hook and I build around it which is often the most agonizing and frustrating.

But like how Mari Howard distinguishes the two in her post "An Amateur looks at the art of Poetry" where she explains that "Poetry conventionally differs from other writing in its commitment to rhyme, rhythm, and formal style. Not only that but it is closely allied to music, and so to the ears. Whether the “inner ear” or the outer, collective ear of performance. Poetry appeals especially to creative writers who particularly enjoy pattern-making, fitting the deep emotional content of what they have to say into strict boundaries, and choosing a suitable form."

Bill Kirton said...

We've collaborated frequently enough for you to know that I share your persuasion. On the few early occasions when I pre-plotted short stories, I soon learned that (for me, at least) the result was forced and actually inauthentic. In fact, in one radio play of mine, broadcast on the BBC, my insistence on making its characters spout a particular type of imagery which underscored the plotline led to one review which began 'This is a tiresome play about tiresome people'. And I agreed. More recently, I had to rewrite the ending of 'The Likeness' six times before the 'heroine' was satisfied with the outcome. You have to give your characters room to be who they are.

Sessha Batto said...

I did try plotting, only to find I no longer had interest in the story because I already knew how it went! All I ever really know are characters and the end, everything else just has to spool out as I go. Which means loads of editing because I hit a bunch of dead ends along the way. The journey, however, is its own reward

Sandra Horn said...

Hail Fellow Pantser! Sometimes I think I'd like to be more organised and careful and forward-thinking, but that would mean a brain transplant at the least. Pantsing seems to work remarkably well for you, so heigh ho!

www.brchitwood.com said...

Pretty Pantseress paints picture perfectly! xox

Susan Price said...

Eden, another plantser here.
I start everything as a pantser -- and I agree with Bill. Characters have to be given room to be who they are -- and not only characters, but scenes and books too.
But usually, in order to find an ending that's anywhere near satisfying, I have to start doing a little planning and shaping.
So, part pants, part plans -- a plantser it is!

Eden Baylee said...

Hi Jacques, thanks for your comment. I read Mari's post and found that passage very telling as well. I do see how pansting and plotting can relate to songwriting, though it's probably less about 'plot' for songs. Songs don't need to make sense in the same way that a book does. Agree the hook and the structure of a song (similar to poems) has to gel more than anything.

Eden Baylee said...

Hi Bill, my fellow collaborator!

We pants the heck off each other, it's surprising either of us still owns a pair of pants! :D

Eden Baylee said...

Hi Sessha, I'm so thrilled to see you here. Happy new year, first of all. xox

Agree the journey, as difficult as it can be at times, is a reward in itself. I had to laugh at your line >

"I did try plotting, only to find I no longer had interest in the story because I already knew how it went!"

I think that's so true. I know I'm the type who hates when something is given away. I LOVE surprises, and I never want clues to movies, books, shows, etc. The discovery is truly the pleasure.

eden

Eden Baylee said...

Hi Sandra, a brain transplant! HAHAHAHA!

Trying to plot does make my brain hurt though!

eden :D

Eden Baylee said...

Hi Billy Ray! So nice to see you here too.

You're a fan of alliteration too, I see.

xox
eden

Umberto Tosi said...

I start out as a "pantser," then run out of road, then turn to plotting (mostly researching). Then I dissolve into a whirlpool of seductive facts and ideas that I hadn't considered. Then I try to plot these until everything turns into goulash. Then I give up and go back to my pantsing. It's a nightmare, but it gets the job done (when I does.) Thank you for your stimulating observations. When I was a schoolboy back in the Jurrasic Age, my greatest fear was of being "pantsed!" This was a Lord-of-the-Flies" kind of bullying in which other boys would pull off a smaller boy's pants and chase him around the schoolyard in his skivvies! Often the victim would be end up as the one punished (for indecent behavior) rather than the perpetrators. Fortunately, I avoided this fate by cowering in the lunchroom during recesses. For whatever reason this memory shows up in considering the metaphors you conjured - possibly because writing also involves dread of embarassment? :D

Eden Baylee said...

Hi Susan,

Thanks for your comment! I believe very few writers can get away with NOT plotting anything - even Stephen King who hates the thought of plotting must do some as he gets into the meat of his books.


:) eden

Eden Baylee said...

Hi Umberto, thanks for your comment. That's some very good pantsing you're doing!

I think your 'nightmare' is what I want to avoid by trying to be more of a plotter, but I can't bloody do it! Plotters are organized and efficient, and their brains work in ways that mine does not. I get the job done too (when I do), but the problem is it seems like such an incompetent method. Still ... it's how I write, so I have to find my peace with it.

Your story about being pantsed is priceless! And writing is the rawest of the arts really, so embarrassment is certainly part of it. Unlike a song, there isn't a melody. Unlike a film , there are no moving images and score.

With a story, there are only words and you can't really hide behind that, can you? :D

eden

Alex Greenwood said...

Great post! I just cannot plan too much. I let the characters take me where they want/need to go.

Eden Baylee said...

Alex! So happy to see you here. :)

You are an excellent listener of your characters. I'm actually surprised you are not more of a plotter as your series is extremely tight. Great job pulling it off by pantsing!

xox
eden

Lisette Brodey said...

Hi, Eden:

Loved this blog. It is always so interesting to me how different authors go about their work.

I am definitely not a pantser. I was for decades and I didn't figure out for a long time: that's why I never finished anything. I could write away, and then I would get stuck.

That said, I'm not a micro plotter, either. I know my basic plot points and I do think a lot about the characters. (But I don't really know them until I write them, or should I say, they write themselves.)

As you know, I write books with multiple story arcs that come together in different ways, and this could never be possible if I couldn't lay the groundwork and didn't have an idea where I was going.

My current WIP, my 10th book, is quite a saga spanning several years. There's no way I could bring it all together without knowing some things. But I continue to surprise myself as I write. There's lots in the book that was never planned and I welcome those surprises.

I can tell you that I've done my most extensive planning for this book out of all that I have written.

I am more likely to give "pantsing" a try while writing short stories and have actually done so.

Keep writing, my friend, because you're very, very good at it.

:)xo

Clare Weiner (Mari Howard) said...

The plotting is in the brain, before I begin and again once I've really got going. The pants part is in the actual writing: knowing the characters and working through the sketch of a possible plot to make it work using them as the actors, (as it were). At the editing stage, I may find myself making sure everything 'works' which might involved plotting a few changes... I am guessing that the more one works within a very well known genre, where certain aspects of a story are 'expected' by readers, planning is more important. For example, police procedurals and 'cosy crime', and certain kinds of romance, I've heard, the readers 'expect' the plot of unfold in a certain style/way?

Eden Baylee said...

Hi Lisette, thanks so much for reading and commenting!

I would've guessed you to be more a pantser, but given how prolific you are and that you write books in various series, that would be difficult. How you've explained your process is very much a combination of plotting and pantsing.

The complexity of your characters shows free spirited writing. They are not formulaic at all, which I think is a criticism of plotting.

Because I'm such a pantser, short stories are my forté - no doubt here. I just need to write in a way that strings these 'shorts' into a novel. I'm doing them slowly, chapter by chapter.

You're an inspiration!
xox
eden

Eden Baylee said...

Hi Mari, thanks for your comment.

I agree certain genres are more 'formulaic' than others, and if it's what readers expect - then they fulfill a need.

Personally, I'm with Margaret Atwood on this ... it's too "paint by numbers' for me, so that's why I don't write those genres.

Like you, I'm ''plotting" in my head AND as I write. Doing this can seem inefficient at times, but it's how I write so I need to accept it. You're right that everything has to get worked out in the edits, so that part is probably more painful for pantsers than plotters. :)

eden

William Kendall said...

I'm very much a plotter.

Eden Baylee said...

HI William, I'm not surprised you're a plotter. Your posts are very well organized and include many pictures. It would be hard to do that regularly without some good plotting skills!

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Appreciate it!

eden