Monday, May 7, 2012

The space between the plotting and the pantsing

Most of us readily consider ourselves either a discovery writer or a plotter. We fly by the seat of our pants, proudly sporting the "I'm a Pantser" badge, or we like to plot our novels and carry our chart / graph / notebook / notecards anywhere we take our laptop. We stand on our side of the road, wave to our fellow writer friends on the other side, and marvel about how in the world they can write that way.


But in reality, most (if not all) of us are not completely on one side of that road or the other.

If we're pantsers, chances are, we don't start out knowing NOTHING AT ALL. We probably know our characters pretty well. We have a few ideas about the setting, maybe even something about the main conflict. We just don't know what our characters are going to do once we plop them in that setting or in the middle of that conflict.

By the same token, we probably don't plan EVERY LITTLE THING that's going to happen if we are a plotter. We don't have every chapter mapped out, with every interaction with every character recorded, each piece of each character arc color-coded, every plot point spelled out.

We're probably somewhere in-between the two.

For me, I'm right about here:


I consider myself a plotter. I sometimes plot for months before I ever start to write. I get the setting down pat. Figure out the character arcs. The plot arcs. The theme. I know pretty much everything about the first 25% and the last 25% of the book.

But that middle? That's the vague part for me. The part that looks like I'm trying to see it without my contacts in. As much as I love plotting, I know it's a very bad idea for me to plot the middle. That's when the magic happens as I'm writing it. Things work themselves out in ways I hadn't anticipated, and work out more brilliantly than I could've ever plotted. If I let my planning nature prevail in the fight to plot the middle, that magic would never happen.

And that's just it. Sometimes you have to quell that plotter / pantser in you on a certain part of your manuscript to let the magic really happen. If you're a pantser, there might be a certain element (character, setting, plot) or part (beginning, middle, end) you have to plan ahead of time to help the magic happen in the direction the story's supposed to be headed, instead of letting that magic fizzle as the story wanders through that first draft. If you're a plotter, maybe there's a certain element or part you have to not plan to let the magic free.

Which do you consider yourself to be-- a plotter or a pantser / discover writer? Is there a part you tend to not plot / pants in order to let the magic happen? We'd love to hear about it in the comments!
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Peggy Eddleman hangs out at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah with her three hilarious and fun kids and her incredibly supportive husband. She is repped by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, and her middle grade post- apocalyptic adventure THROUGH THE BOMB'S BREATH will release in Fall 2013 from Random House.

You can find her at her blog, Will Write for Cookies, or on Twitter at @PeggyEddleman.

26 comments:

  1. I'm a total pantser. I'll outline bits in my head but rarely do I put pen to paper and draft an outline. *Shudders* Feels too much like school.

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  2. Love this post and your pics! I am a plotter by nature--doing the whole outline thing and research/character arcs for weeks before drafting..but then once my pen hits the paper, all bets are off and I go off in all kinds of directions which keeps the writing feeling fresh I think!

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  3. I am way to the left side of your pics. Discovery, baby. BUT...as you say, I often have an idea, either of a plot or a character, before I start writing, but almost everything just sort of flows from there. I also find that, when I get somewhere deep in the middle, I sometimes need to impose a bit of structure and try to plot out to help me get the rest of the way.

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  4. That is the cutest graphic ever! I do a little bit of both. I outline all the major plots stuff but each scene is pantsed. Somehow it works!

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  5. This is exactly how I do my writing. Bookmarking this post. :)

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  6. Oo, it's like connect-the-dots. :D Well said, Pegasus!

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  7. Ah, love this post, Peggy! I'm somewhere in the middle, I think. Too much pantsing and I get hopelessly lost, but too much plotting and I get bored. It's nice to have a bit of both!

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  8. I used to think I was a pantser, but I'm more of a plotter. I will say that my story does always take turns I wasn't expecting as I start to write.

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  9. I'm a plotter! I love planning the novel and having a guideline next to me as I start writing. But inspiration often comes while I'm writing, and so if something new comes up that wasn't part of the original plan, I just go with it. I don't mind pantsing away from the outline during the writing process if new, better ideas come to me. I can just fix the outline later!

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  10. I started off as a panther, but I'm starting to realize that you don't waste as much time if you plot. I'm probably in the middle. Like you said, I know my characters, my setting, the plot points. I typically even know how it's going to end.

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  11. I always thought I leaned more toward "pantsing," but I do SOOO much plotting in my head before ever writing that I think I'm actually a closet plotter. ;)

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  12. I'm definitely a hardcore pantster. I map out every single chpater for my first draft. yes, I add a lot afterwards, but most of the story is well-planned in advance. I even plan some of the dialogue. What I do not plan ahead is the setting. I layer that in as I'm drafting. So if I was plot a point on that line, I'd be almost crawling up that plotter's leg!

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  13. I'm a combo of the two, a plotster. Big time.

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  14. I've always been a pantser, but with my current WIP I've been doing a little more plotting. For my next it'd be fun to try plot most of it out first, to if it works for me. But if the urge hits to start writing, it'll be hard to ignore.

    I could never be a hardcore plotter.

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  15. I usually write out the first chapter or so of a new project just to get out ideas, then plot the major events in the story so I have a basic skeleton.

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  16. I thought I was a total panster, but then I started writing with someone else, and asked her lots of questions so I could get it all worked out in my head. And she was apologizing because she's a panster. It made me realize that I mentally plot.

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  17. I lean more towards the pantser side. However I do know some of the events beforehand, and some of the twists. I just can't plan anything meticulously. I'm afraid I get too bored!

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  18. im a 70-20 plotter-pantser. im also a bad typer. (my baby wont let me use my left arm right now). but peggy, i think im going to depants you (in a literal way) one of these days :)>

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  19. Yeah, I'm definitely more pantser than plotter. I have gone to the dark side before and plotted a whole story out, but as I was writing it up, I realised something: I was bored!

    Of course, I have on ONE single occasion been 100% pantser and sat down to write a story whose characters I didn't even know (not even their names, or their faces, or anything).

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  20. I'm a 60-40 plotter-panster, and let the middle come to me as I write it. :)

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  21. I'd like to say I am a plotter, but only as it relates to the overarching theme and structure. The rest, just flying by the seat of my pants :-)

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  22. For me, it depends on the project, but I like to know where my book's going to end before I start to write. Like you, the middle is fuzzy. Great post!

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  23. More pantser than plotter, but the more I've considered it, the more I realise my first draft is an elaborate plan - all the detail is there, it just needs fleshing out.

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  24. I'm a plotter. But I accept you can't plan everything and usually the parts of the story come from the moments when I'm lost in the story and it writes itself through me. But I don't like fuzziness.

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  26. I'm a wanna be plotter! (Nice post, Peggy.)

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