Sunday, October 9, 2011

Are you a pantser or a plotter? I'm a planster...

I see a lot of discussion on whether or not writers are "plotters" or "pantsers", whether they write with full outlines and note cards and know each character by heart before they've written a word, or whether they just sit down and go with the flow. Me? I'm somewhere in between, in "planster" land.

I don't do note cards. I never have an outline written down. It just seems like a whole lot of work. But I do know a lot about my characters before I start writing. I get the initial story idea in my head and then I keep thinking about the character. How are they going to react? Why are they going to react this way? I work on that in my head, though. I don't write it down. Then I start writing.

And this may be where I differ from others. I don't sit down and write as much as I can at one time. I write one scene at a time.Why? Two reasons. The first is because the story plays out in my head as a movie. I see my characters, I see the scene. Then I write it down as best I can to help you, the reader, see it too. And I like to give myself time to see the next scene. And second, I've also found that the story changes somewhat if I give my brain extra time to process it. So basically, I'm a slow worker. But for longer stories, its what works best for me. And it's not that I never write two scenes in a day, sometimes I come back and do another scene in the afternoon. And maybe even one more before bed. I just don't do them all at once.

I'm also thinking about the story and the characters all the time in the back of my mind. My best ideas or plot points or even endings come to me in the shower. Weird, huh? I think it's one of the few places where I'm just relaxing and my mind is sort of blank. Then I get all excited and start plotting. (Note to self: no matter how excited you get, do not jump up and down in the shower. The resulting fall is painful.) So in that way, I do plot out a rough, unwritten outline. And it helps me to have a direction to go in with the next scene.

But I don't always know my characters as well as I think I do. Sometimes they surprise me. I was working on a (soon to be published) story and one of the characters revealed that she was a homosexual. I was a little shocked at first, because I didn't see it coming, but then I shrugged and went with it. Good for her, I thought. To sum it up, here's a conversation I had with my son~

Me: I hate that people don't do what I want. That's why I write.

Sean: So you can make your characters do what you want?

Me: exactly.

Sean: How's that working out for you?

Me: It's not. They don't listen to me either.

Sean: So, the made-up people in your head don't listen to you either?

Me: No one listens to me, Sean. No one.

And the one I had with my daughter~

Me: OMG! Guess what I just found out? Susie is gay!

Mo: Really?!

Me: I know right?! I can't believe I didn't know...

And yes, that was a conversation about a made up person. Thank goodness my children indulge, no, embrace my craziness.

So there you have it. I'm a plantster. What are you?


Author, T.K. Millin said...

I like your term,"planster" land!

I believe whatever works for the writer is the best way for them to write. More importantly, whatever helps the writer reach their goal, typing the words, The End.

For myself, I am a little of both too. Since recently joining the community of Friday Flash Fiction I have been developing my "pantser" skills. I usually start with an image in my mind of what the story will be about based upon the week's theme and then see what happens. I'm finding it thrilling to watch my surprise ending skills grow!

For my full length novels I am a plotter. I have one completed (which is in the editing stage) which is approx 90,000 words, a second (which needs revisions) which is approx 50,000 words and a third which I am currently starting.

It doesn't mean directions won't change, new characters won't be born or surprise twist won't develop, but it does help me to keep on track and know the direction of the story. Sometimes I actually write the ending first. It also helps during the editing stage with novels this size to make sure you stay consistent with characteristics of characters (blue eyes in Chapter One don't become green eyes in Chapter Twenty, etc.) and making sure plot points connect say in Act One and Act Three, particularly if you are not writing the book from beginning to end (which often times in full length novels I don't).

Again, all writers have different ways of writing. That's what makes us all so unique!!

Spot said...

I agree that there's no "right" way nor a "wrong" way. Whatever works best for the person doing the writing works for me.

Honestly, I'm not the most organized person in the world, so I'd probably lose those notecards anyway. Lol.


John Wiswell said...

I'm whatever you want to call me. Just wrapped up a novel this afternoon, which was a very long process. I drew a map of the area so I could chart things, and a plot skeleton of events that I revised into chapters as I went along. For about a decade my process has been to know what events have to happen in order to get to the end, and to let everything else execute on the page. Sometimes that requires rewiring the script. It's always worth it.

Spot said...

That sounds a lot like how I work, John. And since I love your writing, it must be a system that works!