Monday, November 05, 2012

Pantser verses Plotter--the Pros and Cons

This election season is mercifully drawing to a close after one of the most contentious campaign in history which made me think about another battle, one that has  been waged for years among the writing community. Pantser verse Plotter. I feel that as a combination of the two, I can give pros and cons of both.

The Pantser
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These writers are affectionally known as the seat of the pants writer because (you guessed it!) they write by the seat of their pants! No outlines or synopsis for them. Instead, they follow their characters, letting them write their own story. Great in writing a character-driven story plus this sort of writing gives you the sense of adventure and excitement. It’s this kind of excitement that drives a person to the computer, anxious to discover that evasive answer to the question: what happens next?

But it’s also that uncertainty that is the greatest con of being a pantser. Without a road map to tell you where your story is going, you might find yourself falling down the rabbit hole with no way out. Writing without moving the story forward which can be frustrating and time-consuming. I should know--I was firmly in the pantser camp for the first eight years I wrote. At first, the excitement of uncovering the story was addictive but butt your head against the wall of the rabbit hole enough and well, you get the picture. So unless you’re okay with taking 4 years to write a 70K novel or you’re just writing for the love of it, being a pantser can be frustrating and unproductive. At least, this was my experience.

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The Plotter
These writers are the ones who have a notebook full of character charts, bits of research and possible plot points. They flesh out synopsis, make scene cards and hammer down every little detail of their novel, right down to the color of the drapes in the living room. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Sometimes, which makes it hard to put your backside in a chair and actually write. But when they do write, they produce manuscripts to submit to publishing houses.

A couple of years ago, after working as a first reader for a publishing house, I realized that I could tell the difference in those manuscripts that had been fully plotted out verses those written by a pantser. If I ever wanted to be published, I needed to learn how to plot. So I took a year off from writing, took classes on the art of plotting, worked on my own story’s plot line. When I continued working on my novel, I had a clear direction of where it was going. And I finished it in six months.

That novel became my first sale, Hearts in Flight.

Am I totally committed to plotting? Yes, but I don’t stop my characters from leading me toward a new realization that builds on the conflict or deepens the readers‘ insight into the character. That's when the pantser in me comes out. That’s why I think I’ve become a nice blend of the two--it’s what works for me.

So what about you? Pantser or Plotter? How do you make it work?  

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