*New writers often think there must be a wrong way and a right way to create novels. They eagerly join writing groups and devour how-to books with the idea that a gold answer on “how to write a book” will be dropped in their lap. There’s nothing wrong with this. Wanting to learn something new guarantees you’ll be curious enough to ask plenty of questions.
*In the process of learning, writers hear two words tossed around frequently. Pantser and plotter. There are plenty of pros and cons for both types of approaches to writing a novel. Contrary to what a writer may hear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with writing either way.
*What becomes a problem is when an author tries to jam a square peg into a round hole and allows someone to tell them they should be a pantser or a plotter. This doesn’t mean new writers shouldn’t learn craft. It means they have to take care that they are not writing according to so many strict rules there is no creativity left in their writing process. I’ve seen new writers become so frustrated that want to stop writing because the “rules” suck the creativity right out of them.
Plotter vs. Pantser
*A plotter needs structure when they write. They often need charts, diagrams and outlines to feel comfortable. Many times they need to understanding what the beginning, middle, and end of the book before they start writing. Not knowing things ahead of time can create significant anxiety for the writer who is a plotter.
*A pantser needs varying degrees of freedom. A pantser may have a title or an overarching idea for a book based on a time period, a concept, or an individual character. They may know one or two of these ideas up front. Or they may start with a single scene that intrigues them. They will rarely know the end of their book. (I’ve known the ending for a book a couple of times before I even started the book and I’m a pantser.) Pansters may have basic knowledge who their characters are and may do character charts, but creating a synopsis can sometimes destroy their desire to write a book. Most of the time outlining their books beforehand damages their ability to write with authencity. Writing a synopsis of their book beforehand can destroy the muse and create writer’s block.
*Many authors discover they work best combining these two ways of doing things. It’s even possible an author may be a plotter for one book and a pantser for another if it feels right.
*There is nothing wrong with either way of writing if it gets the job done. I have run into plotters who think pantser writers waste time. They honestly can’t understand how not outlining or plotting up front can prove productive. Whole books have been written on if you “only do it this way, your book will be easier to write.” Well, it might. And it might not. No one ever said writing a book was easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.
*In Anne Lamott’s fantastic book BIRD BY BIRD, she describes the problem many pantsers encounter if they try and force themselves into being a plotter when it isn’t natural for them, “Characters should not, conversely, serve as pawns for some plot you’ve dreamed up…I say don’t worry about plot. Worry about the characters. Let what they say or do reveal who they are and be involved in their lives, and keep asking yourself, ‘Now what happens?’…Your characters had something in mind all along that was brighter and much more meaningful than what you wanted to impose on them.”
Writing In Flow
*Personal Definition of Flow: A sublime state of being unaware of your surroundings, steeped in ecstasy, contentment, a sense of rightness. A natural high when the entire universe seems to surge through your fingertips and onto the page. This state doesn’t materialize for most authors on an everyday basis, although it can be coaxed to emerge. What does all this have to do with the difference between a pantser and a plotter?
*Recognize what type of author you are and honor that. If you are a new author, chances are you’ve started out as a panster. This doesn’t mean that you will stay that way. It may mean you decide later on that plotting, outlining, and diagramming everything from the get go is what you need to write the best book possible. If, however, you try to do all these things and find it gives you “creative constipation” where you can’t write a thing, chances are you are not a plotter. I decided some time ago that while I am mostly a panster, I am a bit of a plotter when I create historicals. If I find myself clogging up, it’s usually because I’ve tried to “direct” the book too much with a plotter frame of mind.
*How does this pantser plot when she does plot? Sometimes when I write a historical I start off by interviewing the hero and heroine. I ask them questions, write down their answers. This helps me to get inside their heads. If there is a bad guy, I question him as well. I also write down what my hero and heroine look like, their mode of dress, what they like too eat, etc. (I also do this with contemporary novels). I read a few books dealing with that time period. This gives me ideas about some plot points I may want to put in my book, and I write these ideas down as they come to me. I also do some research before I start writing. However, I do not use researching relentlessly as an excuse not to start writing the book. I soak my head in the ideas long enough to absorb the information into my bones.
*When I write a contemporary novel I still sometimes soak my head in information before I start the book. A good example of that is my firefighter novel, COMBUSTION. I wanted to be accurate, so I made sure I had all the firefighter resources I needed to keep my facts straight. With my SWAT series, HEART OF JUSTICE, I made sure I did the same by taping into police sources.
*In conclusion, stay true to your writing dreams and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make this journey as a plotter, pantster, or a combination of both.