Writers generally fall under two categories: Plotters and Pantsers. Plotters are the ones who plot out their stories meticulously via treatments and/or detailed outlines before they begin actually writing out the story. Pantsers prefer exploring as they go. They know what the story is about in general and they know their characters and that’s enough for them to begin. They start writing and they figure out the story as they go, kind of letting the characters lead the way and see what happens.
I am a plotter. Big time. I find it very, very hard to understand how in the world anybody can be a pantser and come up with a decent, halfway coherent story without having to continually gut the story and start over and over again til the thing makes sense. But people do it all the time. And they love it! They love the sense of discovery and getting lost in the story. That’s great that it works for them, but pantsing is not for me. I started my writing career as a screenwriter where every word counts. You’ve only got 120 pages—max—to tell your story so there’s really no time to explore where you’re going. You’ve got to know exactly where you’re going and how you’re gonna get there. Now that I’ve switched to novel writing, I find I still like knowing exactly where I’m going.
I suppose it also depends on the kind of story you’re writing. If it’s especially plot driven, you’ve got to plan the plot points out very carefully. If your tale is more character-driven, perhaps you’ve got more time to explore. Anyway, here are 5 things I like about being a plotter:
Set up and payoff. I find if I plan things out carefully, I’m able to set up a certain plot point or piece of humor and then pay it off later. I suppose you could accidently stumble upon a good payoff from something you’ve set up earlier as a pantser, but I find it’s a lot easier to set off a trap that you’ve intentionally set up earlier.
Character development. I like to know what the character is going to learn and how she’s going to change by the end of the story. I know her specific flaws in the beginning and then I can plan on what other characters and situations will come along to help her to change her ways.
Tighter plot. Whether I’m writing a middle-grade novel or adult fiction, I like to carefully plan out what’s going to happen and slowly dole out enough clues to keep the reader interested. I can’t imagine being able to do this if I don’t know what’s going to happen next.
A lot of the hard work is done first. Since I work full-time and have two kids, I have to maximize my writing time and get as much done as possible in every writing session. I find I really hate sitting down to write and then not knowing what to write about! I don’t want to have to sit down and think about what comes next. I want to have a good idea of what scene I’m going to write and what’s supposed to happen. I also find that, by planning ahead, I can think of funnier and more entertaining things that can happen in the scene. For instance, if I know I’m going to write a scene about a character who’s going to get a dog, I can think ahead of time about where he’s going to go, what kind of dogs he’s going to see, who he’s going to meet, and so forth. If I have time to think ahead, whether it be while I’m driving, in the shower, at work, etc, I find I can think of all kinds of interesting things that can happen and the scene I end up writing will be much richer than if I only had the hour or so before going to work to think about it.
Better humor. Unlike fictional sitcom characters who can come up with brilliantly funny things to say right on the spot, I can’t always think of something clever right away. I’d love to be that witty, but I’m not. I need time to think. Often, I will come up with a clever line for a character to say that won’t be used until later chapters and there’s no way I will remember it by the time I get to that part. I consult my trusty outline so I won’t forget.So that’s the kind of writer I am.
Stay tuned for next week’s guest blogger, a panster, who will provide some insight on the pantser way of thinking. Of course, she’ll probably just make up the whole blog article as she goes along…