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Pantser… Plotter… What am I and What are You?


Poking about online, I found a post by another writer who mentioned that she was a “plotter”, not a “pantser”.  My initial reaction was to laugh, because being a “pantser” just sounds funny.  But, then, I found myself compelled to google these terms because, in context, I understood that they had something to do with writing style and I was curious as to which category I fell into.  I understood the basic premise of each, but didn’t have a clear definition in mind for either term.

I found this article (clicky), for anyone who is also wondering what these terms mean in the writing world.

Upon reading the article, I discovered that I am mostly a pantser (which is great, because it sounds a lot more fun than being a “plotter”, which kind of sounds villainous… hey, that could be fun too, come to think of it).  And, let me tell ya – there are plenty of times where I would love to pants those pesky, uncooperative characters… then run away giggling diabolically.

Plotting does sound like the “smarter” way to go.  Revisions would be easier I think, for one thing.  And, most of the advice you’ll hear as a writer, in my experience, tends to revolve around the idea of doing more plotting.

Unfortunately, that’s just not going to work for me.  I’ve tried it!  I’ll try to outline a project, only to find that I keep changing the outline, keep changing the work as I’m doing it, and find myself hampered more than helped by the process.  Writing the book, at that point, does become less enjoyable and more restrictive to the flow of creativity, for me personally (as was pointed out in the article linked above, as one potential con to plotting).

I’ve found that I work best by grabbing my notebook and filling each “subject” divided section with messy, hastily blurted out brain-stormey type notes on the idea I have in mind.  I may do some basic, preliminary, always changing, outlining.  I usually write a number of possible opening paragraphs.  I’ll ask myself open-ended questions on those pages.  I’ll often write out a few quotes that come to mind and that I think would work well somewhere within the project.  And, I’ll throw down important character information, as it comes to me.

I suppose some of that would fall into the category of plotting.  But, I don’t do character interviews or fill out concrete, detailed outlines or the like.  It’s never worked for me – all the times I’ve given that method a shot.

For me, the story doesn’t come alive until I start writing it down; the characters don’t feel real until I start writing about them, or from their perspective, or start writing their dialogue; the subplots don’t even come to mind half the time until I let the story start flowing of it’s own accord.  For me, it’s as though I can’t write the story, if I already know all the details.  Most of the time, that makes the process a lot of fun.  Sometimes, it’s very frustrating not to know what I’m going to write until I start writing it.

All that said, I also can’t let a rough draft sit unedited until the end.  If, while pantsing out my story, I decide to change something, or some sub plot comes to mind that would need to have been set up prior – I can’t just keep writing without going all the way back to the beginning and revising all the way back down to where I was, in order to get the logic and flow at least somewhat “right”.  I can’t just let sleeping dogs lie and come back to revise the entire thing later.

I’m sure that slows down my writing process.  But, call it an OCD thing, I will stay up ALL night obsessing, if I don’t go back to the beginning and revise the entire thing, even though I’m almost done, if I’ve changed or added even one little detail.

Now, were I writing nonfiction, I don’t think pantsing would work at all.  I would have to do the plotting thing, or give up on writing nonfiction.  But, maybe it DOES work for some nonfiction writers.  I don’t really know.

So, which are you – the pranky pantser or the precision plotter or somewhere closer to the middle perhaps?  Is either method a “better” way to write, in your opinion?  Whichever one you are, what are the pros and cons you’ve noticed, if any, with your particular method?

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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in All, Writing

 

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