Plotter vs Pantser by Neil McGowan

 I've reached that tricky point in the middle of my current book where all the setup is done but it's too early to start writing the conclusion. I want to keep the pacing and further develop the characters whilst pushing the story towards the conclusion, but this is probably my most ambitious book yet in terms of characters and the different strands of storyline I'm trying to weave together. To try and avoid too much overwriting (and keep the various threads straight) I've been experimenting with plotting over the past few weeks.

 

I've always been a pantser when writing - previous attempts at plotting have resulted in wooden plots and stilted dialogue which I've only been able to resolve by abandoning the detailed plot (which always seemed fine until written) and letting the characters do their thing. I figure, if I don't know exactly how things are going to turn out, then neither will the reader, and they'll (hopefully) remain engaged with the book.

 

This time, I've got five separate storylines to juggle and bring together. I suspect I could just continue writing and fix all the continuity errors etc in a rewrite, but I wondered if, this time, a hybrid approach might work for me.

 

So, instead of my normal 1-page outline that gets generated as I write (I always have the beginning in mind when I start writing, usually an idea how it might end, and one or two key scenes that I know will be in there somewhere) I'm creating a more formal structure to use as a basis to write from. It's still not what I would class as detailed plotting, but it's much more than I'm used to.

 

I've gone low-tech, as well, resorting to a sheet of A3 card and a bunch of Post-It notes, Blu-Tack, and string. I tried writing an outline, but found it's quite difficult to play around with different scenes to see what works best. With my gloriously old-fashioned method, I can move characters and scenes around. The bits of string let me see what effect all this playing around has on the story as I can see what is connected to who and what. Already managed to spot a timing issue and this made it easy to work out a way around the problem in a way that makes sense.

 

It's been such fun that I've lost hours to playing with this when I should have been writing, and I've realised this is another reason I don't like plotting - it takes me away from getting the story down on paper. It also takes away that little frisson of excitement when the ideas are coming thick and fast and going straight onto paper (or screen).

 

I think I've found a happy medium this time - I know key events and the timeline structure they sit in, without knowing all the details. I might know that my protagonist has an encounter in a bar, for example, but I won't know all the events that lead to that. I've created my plot using effect, leaving the causality to my imagination.

 

Will I use this method going forward for future books? Perhaps, but I think it depends on the complexity of the structure, Once this book is finished, the next one I'm planning to write is another Young Adult novel, this one a slightly dystopian future crime thriller (more details on that in a forthcoming post) and the story for that one, as it's slowly taking shape in my head, probably won't need plotting. I'm still a pantser at heart, but now I've found something that works for me, I no longer treat thoughts of plotting with such disdain.

 

Fun times! Right, enough messing around with the plot, time to get back to writing the book. If I just move this piece of string and that note…

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