Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Plotter or Pantser?

Louise Doughty, author of the London Telegraph column, A Novel in a Year, says, “It is easy to believe that there is some holy mystery to plotting or structuring a novel but, at its most basic level, it is no more than a matter of you as a novelist deciding that this will happen, then this, then that… and if it doesn't work, you will change it.”

The ongoing debate is whether plotting is something worth doing before your write or as you write—otherwise known as plotting vs. pantsing.

Plotters are writers who like to write with a detailed outline. Pantsers like to write by the seat of their pants, sans outline. There is no right or wrong way to write, and new writers need to discover what works best for them.

Personally, as a first time novelist (and virgo), I like to work with a very, very detailed outline. In fact, I am currently working with Karen Wiesner’s First Draft In 30 Days. This book develops an outline to the point where it can be considered the first draft. I also do my work in several software applications which I find help me organize my outline. Currently, I’m using FreeMind (free!!) mind-mapping software and a trial version of Liquid Story Binder.

I’ve tried several times to make a go of my novel (and others in the past) as a pantser, but to no avail. I eventually can’t carry on because I don’t know what to write. With an outline, I’m better prepared as I sit at my computer – with a full mind rather than a blank one.

Some writers feel outlining quashes their creativity, and perhaps it does, but for me, in order to have a well-structured book that ‘works,’ I need to have a plan to follow.


Apparently, I’m a Plotter (big surprise). “You're a plotter, someone who carefully crafts an intriguing plot to keep the reader hooked from one scene to the next. You thrive on knowing exactly where your story is going, and what's going to happen along the way. Although you might veer off your original plan for the story, mostly you stick to your carefully planned outline. You're a born storyteller who enjoys sharing your stories with others.”

Do you plot, write as you go, or use a combination of both methods? Why?


Anonymous said...

I am, alas, a pantster. I try not to be, but I don't succeed very well. :)

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Aha! So, I am an Old Soul, neither pantser nor plotter--who uses serendipity & spontaneity (but also recognizes the benefit of plot). May make an outline and write something totally different. (How TRUE!) A born writer. Hmmm. Or, in my case, a wroter, as in someone who USED TO write.

Tess said...

Hmm, interesting - I took the quiz and it told me I'm a pantser, yet I KNOE I'm a plotter. Vewwwwy interesting :-)

Jen said...

What do you think of Liquid Story Binder so far? I've been thinking about using writing software for years but just never have. The price is right on that one, plus it looks really interesting.

Anonymous said...

Pepek: Pantser Wroter - say that 10 times fast
Tess: Hey, maybe it's karma telling you something
Tori: It's okay to be a pantser - why fight it if it works for you?
Jen: I LOVE software and Liquid Binder is very complex for the cost. However, another of my faves is yWriter (FREE), available at http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter.html which has a ton of fab features such as word repeater counter, daily words needed to reach goal, scene and chapter outliners. Great. I could go on and make another post right here!

redchurch said...

Plotter here. I just don't get any benefit from pantsing.

I'll be in NaNoWriMo again this year, which for many is a pantsy kind of thing. It was for me last year, but this year I'm going to have a plot to follow. Love the 30 day work ethic... just applied differently.

Terry said...

I just don't enjoy plotting. If I over plot, I really feel it beats the life out of my story. Now that doesn't mean I don't go in without a plan. I generally come up with a scenario, then expand from there. I've known writers that plot every single chapter down to the minute actions of each character. That just takes the joy out of it for me. Half the fun of writing is the exploration! Just my $.02 though.

Zette said...

I do both. I like to write outlines, and write novels from outlines. I've found that I write a more coherent first draft with an outline. Even so, there are still stories were I enjoy flying without a net and letting the characters and plot take me where they will.

For anyone who has to have work done in a specific amount of time, though, I think an outline is definitely the way to go. Work out all the big plot problems ahead of time, and just concentrate on the story. I've made this comment before -- outlines are roadmaps. They show you the route and the important spots along the way, but they don't tell you exactly what you're going to see and say. And there are times when you'll reach a point and find an interesting side path to take, which is fine. The outline is still there so you know where you need to get back to.

I even have a favorite outline program called SuperNotecard, which can be found at Mindola.com. I've outlined several fiction and nonfiction pieces on it in the last few months, and found the ability to move, add, and rate things very helpful. I use it for more than just an outline by creating a few cards for worldbuilding and characters that I keep at the top of the list.

Stacie Penney said...

I've had really good luck with Randy Ingermason's Snowflake Method. Great for anyone that needs detailed outlines.

Anonymous said...

Redchurch: I've been scared to try NaNoWriMo - but maybe it is just the thing for me. The only problem this year is that I am in the midst of a WIP and I believe you have to start a new story for it. I'm not sure I want to take the time off my current project.
Terrence: I find that despite my rigorous plotting, I still have a lot of freedom when I write. I really need to have an idea of what I want to accomplish with each scene in order to make it work as part of the story.
Zette: Ooooh! More software! Thx! I think it's probably a good idea for plotters and pantsers to dabble in the other well every once in a while. Even those of us who think we know what works best for us might find we can use other methods as we grow as writers.
Stay_c - I love the Snowflake Method. It's how I started to develop my own style of writing. The book I mention in my post just takes that method further.

Rene said...

I'm a panster. This is a tough thing to be when you have to write a synopsis for a book you haven't finished. EEK!

Anonymous said...

Rene: EEK is right!

Anonymous said...

i don't plot extensively and tend to follow stephen king's rule:
writing should be like fate, leave it till it happens.
but i generall like to have an idea of what i'm going to write before i sit down.

I like that you post these little bits of information :)

Melissa Amateis said...

I do a little of both - I have to have a basic outline, otherwise I'm in trouble. But I leave lots of room for surprises. :-)

Anonymous said...

Sally: Unlike you, I need a detailed idea of what's going to happen!
Melissa: Surprises are good. Even tho I outline extensively, ideas still form and new paths still materialize.

Cole Reising said...

:) This is such a fun subject! :) I do both! Some days I plot - somedays I just go with whatever my whim is. I used to be totally a whim person but I am now writing a mystery and there's just no way around it for me - I have to do some planning! :)


Sayre said...

I absolutely love Stephen King's writing books. He is an inspiration, even if I don't like everything he writes.

I'm definitely a Pantser. Even in blogwriting, when I sit down to write, oftentimes something completely different from my intention comes out of my fingers. It's weird - like someone else has taken over the writing and laughing with glee while I jump up and down in the background.

By the way, "Pantser Wroter" turned into "pants erroded" after 10 quick repeats. Is that a good thing?

Anonymous said...

Cole: You make a good point. Certain genres require more planning than others. Would make for another interesting discussion.
Sayre: I'm glad someing is laughing with glee! And on the pants, depends on whose pants, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

I actually prefer to use a combination of both methods. I'll employ a rough outline for the story I'm working on, which leaves me some elbow room to make changes if and when I need to while writing.

Some of my best ideas come to me in the process of writing itself, so I'm not willing to completely outline everything in advance.

Tess said...

I went back and did the quiz again, changing two answers (coulda gone either way originally) and I came out a plotter. Interesting. One of those questions was about what you listen to while writing - this time I answered nothing. Half the time I love listening to music while I write, the other half I can't stand it.

Dana Pollard said...

I'm a pantzer, and a former Doughty.

Anonymous said...

Hey Nienke! Glad you stopped by MySpace.

I originally thought I was a pantser, but I've since learned I'm a plotter with pantser tendencies. That is to say I need a vague map of where the story goes, but if I try to put together too detailed an outline, I get bored with the story.

I use Karen Wiesner's FDi30D, albeit a slightly tweaked version that seems to work better for me. I tried once to use the Snowflake method, but it was so indepth...well, lets just say that story is still sitting on the back burner.

Thanks for the FreeMind link -- I'm going to check that one out.

And may I just say your blog is wonderful! You've got some amazing links in your sidebar.

Anonymous said...

I've addressed how I got going on my novels in my new post, Novel Beginnings. I did take notes for my new novel Mean Martin Manning, sort of a loose outline of where I thought I was going. I didn't always follow it, though.

Pamela Tyner said...

I’ve tried both ways. Detailed plotting does not work for me. When I start a story, I know the basics--the characters, their GMC’s, where the story begins and where it ends, and *sometimes* a major turning point, but that’s it. The rest is by the seat of my pants.

I will say, though, I end up doing many revisions. If something happens in chapter 10 that I didn’t know in the beginning was going to happen, then I might have to go back to the previous chapters and make some changes/add clues/foreshadowing/etc. Detailed plotting, I imagine, would require less revisions in the end. But, it just doesn’t work for me :)