There’s a lot of talk in writing circles about whether we ‘plot’ or ‘pants’ our novels. Pantsing, otherwise known as SOTP, refers to writing by the ‘seat of the pants,’ meaning the writer does not plan the whole thing out in advance.
I used to think if I wasn’t one, I was the other. I knew I wasn’t a ‘pantser’ so that apparently meant I was a plotter. So then, why did plotting seem so hard?
Anne Lyle says
I’m pretty much the same – I got frustrated with writing advice until I read “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell, which described several approaches on the spectrum between complete pantser and OCD outliner. I still struggle with it, though, because my current approach does require a lot of stumbling about in the dark before I find my way to the story climax. It would be nice to find a methodology that accommodated my Muse but added a little more efficiency!
For the synopsis of my third novel, which I had to send in to be signed off by my editor, I focused on the beginning and end and didn’t say too much about the middle. He was OK with that – he could see how I intend to bring the trilogy to a conclusion and that I had some cool conflicts set up, so that was enough.
I agree–I’d like to find a way to use this style more efficiently, too! It is very messy, and I hate groping around in the dark. But knowing it is a valid way to get to a story does help!
Dawn Crandall says
Hey Valerie! Nice post! I’m right in the middle too… though lean toward plotting more. I love plotting. 😀
Hi Dawn! I’d love plotting more if I could SEE the plot. **grumble mumble**
I call myself a structured organic writer (the term ‘pantser’ makes me wince) because I have a loose idea of the shape of the book I’m writing, there are a few well-lit guideposts (scenes) ahead, and I usually know what I’m intending to say or what theme I’m intending to explore. The specifics of the journey between the guideposts, or how the whole thing will actually work out… I never know until I write it.
My book notes are usually on paper, just a handful of things that, if they weren’t scratched out and scribbled over as I focus in on what I’m really trying to say, could fit on an index card. I think my final notes for M were something like:
Morgan RUNS. Always.
there’s a dog, BIG dog
That’s really about all I have when starting, just a rough roadmap to the guideposts. I do make other notes – again, always in long hand – as other events, scenes and motivations become clear to me, but mostly I just write the whole thing off the initial short series of notes. I write various beginnings (beginnings are the hardest part!) until one takes hold and the story starts to churn forward, but I rarely know the ending until I’m almost to it.
I’ve always felt really weird and alone writing this way. Maybe I’m not so strange after all. 😉
“Structured Organic” — I like that. Sounds like you’re further into the pantsing spectrum than I am, but I’m liberated to find that it IS a spectrum! Nice to hear from you, Tam.
Elizabeth George’s “Write Away” clarified for me my middle ground. She does general plots a scene or two ahead of where she’s writing. I tried that and it worked. I can’t do the whole book at once, but when I do a bit at a time, it all seems to come together. I usually have a pretty good idea about where I’m starting and where it will end up, though.
Thanks for that, Linda. What I want to know is why, if there’s so many of us middlers, we rarely are acknowledged?
Gina Welborn says
Interesting you posted on this, Valerie, because I had a e-discussion with Randy on his four writing paradigms. Rather enlightening. I can write a synopsis first before doing any narrative, but I’m also flexible enough to deviate from my outline depending on how my characters evolved. I don’t really understand how authors say their characters “take over” the story because I’ve never experienced that. If my, say, heroine won’t do X, then I figure I’ll just figure out a way to make her becuase, after all, I”m the one writing the story.
Anyhoo, I’m classified as an EAYG — edit-as-you-go. And not just a slight one, but an extreme one. I can’t write scenes out of order. Don’t want to. I won’t move on to a new scene until I feel the one I’m working on is fully layered. And prior to writing, I *must* go back to the previous chapter (sometimes even beginning of story) and read to get myself into the mindset of my characters and plot.
So while I’m in EXTREME AWE of authors who can use an alpha smart, I’ll never buy one.
What matters most to me ISN’T the type of writer any writer is, but what their end product is. As long as the story is riveting, I don’t care if it’s written long-hand, transcribed, or alpha-smarted.
Interesting on the edit-as-you-go. I may have to try that. I was always taught (probably by my awesome plotter friends, and I do NOT mean the awesome sarcastically!) to just blast through to the end and not get bogged down by reworking things.
I absolutely can’t write out of order, either. If I wind up moving a scene later for some weird reason, relayering it all is a major pain. Thanks for weighing in!
Carol J. Garvin says
I was asked to do a guest post on Joylene Butler’s blog a couple years ago on my adaptation of Randy’s ‘Snowflake’ method — http://bit.ly/z3M9kT She knew I had tried following it after my first pantser novel went astray, but it was just too confining for me.
I liked Bell’s approach in ‘Plot and Structure.’ Between the two extremes of pantser and plotter there are various degrees of planning, much like the pH factor of water varies from alkaline to acidic, and what’s considered ideal depends on what works for a particular person and purpose. It reinforces what experienced writers have been saying: there is no one right or wrong way to write. You have to find what works best for you.
Good point! On the novel I’m currently working on, I did a bunch of prework, wrote some sort of synopsis, then the first chapters, then back to the synopsis. (I’m trying to sell on proposal this time!) THEN I went back to Randy’s Snowflake and found his early steps very helpful in getting a workable synopsis–but not from scratch.
Julie Jarnagin says
Great info. I’m going to speak at my local ACFW on plotting this month. I use an extremely detailed outline to plot. This post gives me some great information to share for those writers who are in between plotting and seat of the pants writers. Thanks!
I also love Scrivener. It’s a great tool for writers.
Yay! So glad to be of help.
Everyone who knows me knows that I work with extensive, huge outlines and world building material that often takes me months to create
Only sometimes I don’t.
Right now I have a novel that has a good amount of background material, but only about half of the outline. I know where the story is going. I see the ending. I realized I still wasn’t making some of the connections from the opening to that ending. However, once I started writing it, I could see more of what I wanted. I began pushing the outline a bit farther out.
I write all my shorter work without outlines. Occasionally I leap into a novel and write without a net.
Authors need to be open to change. If you only work in one way, you run the risk of never expanding into new areas. Take a chance and try something new now and then!
Very true, Zette! And it certainly takes more than one or two stories to figure out how one’s mind works best. That’s part of the fun of a creative process–it’s all fluid.