Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

Your Novel in 13 Weeks, Part 3: The Plot Wars

By all means take up arms in the fight between "plotters" and "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-ers." Just remember to take up a pen too.

by
Sarah Hoyt

Bio

March 26, 2013 - 2:00 pm
Page 1 of 4  Next ->   View as Single Page

To Plot or Not To Plot

The closest you come to holy wars among writers is on the matter of plotting versus pantsing. Pantsing is a highly technical term, roughly translating as “flying by the seat of the pants.” Plotting in this case means working out the details of your story in advance.

Should someone ask you if you’re a plotter or a pantser, you might think it is just a matter of curiosity; but be careful how you answer.  Whatever your answer, there is an even chance that if your listener is a writer — and even if he isn’t — he’ll have strong opinions on how you’re doing it wrong.

The only people without strong opinions on this are people like me who started as strict plotters, became somewhat looser plotters, and now find themselves as pantsers.  It is not an unusual journey even if the opposite trajectory is almost unheard of .  I have the theory that plotters who become pantsers after a number of books have in fact internalized the structure of a novel so well that the subconscious is pulling its own weight.

Plotters defend their method of work as resulting in tighter, cleaner books, and pantsers defend theirs as letting unexpected genius shine through more often.  And yet, I know many plotters whose work has sudden, unexpected surprises, and many pantsers whose plots work as precisely as a Swiss watch.

So, instead of telling you the way you should work, I’m going to assume you’re an adult and know yourself best. Besides, if you start out one way and it doesn’t work, you can always change.

What I’m going to tell you — quickly — is how some people write plot outlines, and then how other people write without mapping plots in advance.

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (8)
All Comments   (8)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Two good strategies but i employ neither.I carry a little notebook to catch my cluster f of observations and thoughts as they fly in and land.
The problems from this disfunctional neighborhood where i live and that makes my children stay away.Am i one in the same?I want it to be a how not to guide,but say to myself that i like it,here in my yuppy free zone.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I know when I write that I don't develop any type of outline. I forgot where I read it but I follow the "write it down" rule of thumb: Whatever comes to mind write it down and don't stop until you've finished your thought. Once you've written it down go back, read it, edit it, then read it again, then edit it again. If that makes me a pantser so be it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I tried being a complete panster, and I just got lost wandering from scene to the next. My problem is that I can come up with characters and I can think of interesting scenes to put them in, but when it came time to get those scenes to lead from point A to point B, I couldn't get it to work.

I finally had to concede that I needed to do the "icky" work of figuring out where my story was going and what it was doing overall; then it was just a matter of taking my scenes and working them into the plot. Once I did that and started working things out on that scale, things fell into place much easier. All the interesting character pieces now had a place and potential reason for being in the overall grand scheme of things. Now, I just need to finish those last touches on the Master Plan. I am itching to really dig in and add all the juicy details, the fun part.

I've been dying to do that because this planning stage is anything but fun. My imagination keeps distracting me with what and how my characters might interact and behave at every stage and I want to write that, but I want to finish the big picture first. But I'm one of the methodical people who wants to get the "no fun" done before I reward myself with the goodies.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I agree,my notes resemble a stack of cards,that fell off the table,i must rely on a skeleton to tape them into a readable story!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Does "backstory" count as plotting? I rather doubt it, but I know where my characters come from and against what background the story unfolds (in 2068 [I may need to move that back to 2058 for other reasons], the US is not broke [I have no idea why not], nanotech and the singularity are still "just around the corner"). My protagonist (she even has a first name: Kate) has about 30,000 people in the same boat to keep her company.

Still need High School (which probably implies city and state), last names, company names, parent's associates (at least in general - politicians? high society? rich but unpretentious?).

I just realized I'm going to be writing about a teen-aged girl. I have no personal experience. Hopefully the CW and Twilight have been good tutors (yes, that's scary). Need to get out of that phase, quickly. Perhaps I'll open when she's in college. Perhaps I'll tell the story from the brother's (Tom, yay, a name!) perspective.

On the other hand, it is about telepaths, so 3rd person omniscient might be the route to take.

BTW: I feel lonely - not that it will stop me. Is no one else taking up Sarah's challenge?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Solved the "I know nothing about it" recipe for disaster: Story starts with Kate in business with her brother, not a high-school girl. A few words from the brother about "I always looked after you" will provide enough background. If more is needed, a couple of flashbacks should do it. No need to start the story so far before the main action.

Still no outline, but I have an hour...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In case anyone is paying attention, I have an outline. 14 chapters, it looks like. (and, no, it didn't take six days to write it; I just came back to see if there was another post in this series, which there is.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm more of a pantser myself--though admittedly, I haven't heard that term before. My wife's definitely more of a plotter. We've learned to live and let live on this issue.

Although, to be honest, we've both done some moving toward the middle. She writes more from scratch these days, while I sometimes need to take a step back and figure out where a story is going.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
View All