I’ve been reading some interesting articles lately about plotting versus pantsing. You know the terms? They’re the two categories people (writers and non-writers alike) try to pigeonhole writers in.
A plotter takes time to carefully plan their stories, some going as far as making extremely detailed outlines. A pantser is one who throws caution to the wind and sees where the story takes them.
They’re labels mostly, and I, for one, am not a big fan of labels.
The problem with labels like these is that you always have outliers (*waves hand*). I’m not a pantser in the way that I’ve tried totally winging it and failed. But then, I’m not a plotter either. It takes me a great amount of time to plan something out totally, which is discouraging to say the least, and sometimes I have my best ideas on the fly. So I’m somewhere in between.
When I come up with an idea I take some time to think about it and work it out. I flesh out the characters, their flaws, back-stories, desires and goals, and their potential arcs. Then I set out a general guide as to where my story is going and what specific “mile markers” I would like to reach. I try never to get too specific though, well, because I can’t seem to stick to the plan exactly.
Here is a short run down of my method:
When a idea sparks for me I write it down as soon as humanly possible and then I let it sit. If my mind keeps circling back to it in the days and weeks to follow I know it’s worth pursuing.
Taking that idea and making it into a concept, I utilize a great method I read once. I take the phrase “what if” and then run every freaking scenario I can think of that would go along with my idea. For instance, an idea about a city being attacked by vampires is just an idea. To turn this into a concept, I’d employ the what if technique: What if a city was under attack by vampires | What if there was a long held grudge that spurned this attack | What if this “war” was the fault of the humans and not of the vamps | What if the vamps were defending themselves | What if the vamps were protecting other humans and the city inhabitants in question aren’t “good” per se. I think you get the point. By flushing out my idea into a series of plausible concepts I can narrow in on exactly what it is that I want to talk about.
Having a concept in hand I can begin fleshing out the characters who will move within and drive the story along. This is a critical part of my process and I take a lot of time getting to know my people and their back stories. Without this step in the process nothing I write will ultimately seem believable.
With the characters established I go over the world building. This varies per story but on average I don’t spend too much time here. I get my ideas together as far as the wheres and whens go, but a lot of the worlds unfurl to me as the characters take me through them.
My next step is to write a preliminary blurb. This one or two paragraph pitch helps me to stay focused on what the hook will be and helps me to begin thinking about theme. Both of these (blurb and theme) remain flexible, but as the hook has to catch right away I try my best to make that as solid and tangible as possible from right off.
Okay…I’ve sounded like a plotter up to this point but this is about as far as that goes. Aside from deciding specific mile markers and plot points to reach a couple of chapters a head of time, this is the time when I begin to let my intuition take over. If I feel setting down a more specific outline is necessary, then I take the time to write one out. If the story takes an unanticipated turn I compare it to my general plans and adjust accordingly, either the story to stay on track, or the plans to make the story stronger.
So what are you? A plotter? A pantser? or a part-timer (if were gonna stick with the “P”s)?