Archive for November, 2019

Flying man

Are you a “Pantser” or a “Plotter?”

pantser  noun

\ ˈpan(t)-sər \

a. a NaNoWriMo term for a writer who ‘flies by the seat of their pants’ when they are writing a novel. They have nothing but the absolute basics planned out.

b. one who performs a pantsing on a pantsie.

 

plotter  noun

\ ˈplä-tər \

a. a writer who meticulously outlines the plot of their novel in advance of writing it.  Plotters know the ending before they start writing.

b. a person who schemes or conspires

It turns out these are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to plot and wear pants at the same time.  Because each of these approaches has very definite advantages, and for some people disadvantages.  You can move closer to author nirvana by combining the best parts of both.

For example, when I started my first children’s book, I really didn’t have much planned out aside from the basic premise and the characters.  Pantsing was the perfect approach because I needed to feel my way through the story, not having any real idea of where to begin, how to get to the end, or even the basics of how to plot a book.  Those early chapters were exercises, and very little of that initial pantsing actually made it to the final draft. But I learned a lot about pacing and voice and how the characters talked, etc.

I eventually reached a point where I simply could not continue writing the book until I knew where it was going.  Because the book had evolved into a quest story, and my character would need to accomplish a series of steps and meet a cast of characters along the way. And to make it all work, I had to plot it out like a heist, scene-by-scene.  In other words, there was a point along the way when I joined the dark side and switched from a pantser to a plotter.

But it turns out I never really gave up pantsing.  Which makes me a mole, I suppose, or some sort of literary double-agent.

You see, for my next and current book, I approached it strictly as a plotter.  I had learned a great deal about plot, story beats, tension, stakes, foreshadowing, and story structure.  And I knew I could not simply start writing and expect them all to flow out of my fingers in the proper sequence.  I needed to nail as much of that down in advance as possible. So I wrote an outline with plot points and story beats, with highs and lows, with stakes and motivations and failures and triumphs, and a little bow at the end tying everything neatly together. And so I began chapter one….

And this is when I discovered I still needed my pantsing pants. There is a huge difference between a two-page outline and a 60,000 word novel.  The first sentence of my outline would become a 10-page chapter, and a lot of story still needed to be invented along the way.  At one point I needed to evoke a somber, foreboding mood, and on a whim I added a visual detail that set the tone perfectly.  That single detail, that minor spooky note, became a vital and defining facet of a main character.  That was world-building and character-building all rolled into one, and it was 100% pantsing.

The fact is, no outline alone is simply going to blossom into a novel by adding hot water and stirring, like a box of mac and cheese.  And no amount of writing by the seat of your pants with no direction and no structure is going to magically turn into a cohesive book, without a great deal of sawing and hammering afterwards. But take the best parts of both methods and combine them, and you can accomplish anything.

Find your own balance.  A little of one and a lot of the other, or vice-versa.  Find what works. But don’t be fooled into believing one way or the other alone is all you’ll ever need. They may be opposite sides of the coin, but have you ever tried to spend just one side of a coin?