In the beginning, there were Pantsers and Plotters. One group roamed the earth looking for meaning while the other group stayed put and told the earth what to do. Both groups had a very compelling idea of the earth when they were through, and both lived peacefully in their separate camps. Occasionally a few members would break off and camp in between the two, or cross over completely, but nobody took notice.
If the earth represents characters and plots, what group do you suppose you belong in? Here are two extremes. I bet most people fall in the middle:
A writer who writes by the seat of his or her pants. They let the ideas flow, type them up in order or in pieces, and begin to edit. Often times, you will hear a pantser complain that his or her character did something unexpected that twisted the story completely off its tracks. That could be totally fine! It’s an exploration after all, and the story is not set in stone. They have ultimate control in the moment. They do, however, suffer slightly more than Plotters in regards to writers’ block and taking a long time to finish novels.
A writer who has a plan. His or her characters know to keep in line with their carefully thought out profiles and personalities and get eyed suspiciously if they make a wrong move. The plot is planned for the most part and the character motivations are all written down. There are dozens of outlining methods, and some are more detailed than others. Plotters get novels written quick and also do not suffer from writer’s block as much. However, they can get stuck on something they didn’t foresee. When they get stuck, they may have to redo their outline.
The middle. The best of both worlds!
Personally, I started out as a Pantser and am converting to Plantser. The first way worked wonders and kept me engaged, especially since I thought plotting was like outlining an essay (it doesn’t have to be, actually). I got to meet my characters and learn about them as I went. But when I got to the end and somebody asked me what my story was about, I blanked. I said a bunch of stuff that was vague, but true.
I hadn’t actually put the thing through any kind of planning test in my head and thus, I have spent months consolidating information and figuring out main goals to get a solid answer. You know, stuff plotters do before they write! This prompted me to re-draft as well. I still get that deer-in-the-headlights look about book one, but at least I have a scripted answer I can copy and paste!
The best part about outlining, in my opinion anyway, is that I can play around with ideas over an over. I make mini fifteen-page versions of the novel until I like the way it plots. Plotting makes a whole lot more sense to me now that I have done research on what makes a compelling novel. That’s a whole nother blog post!
What the Experts Say
Good luck getting a consensus! It seems the experts have chosen their groups. Here are just a couple for example:
“Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.” —Steven King
“If you do enough planning before you start to write, there’s no way you can have writer’s block. I do a complete chapter by chapter outline.” —E.L. Stein
Truthfully, it doesn’t matter how you get the story done as long as it gets done right. By right, I mean people want to read it. In the meantime, decide how you write best by trying both! If you are new to writing, like I was, make sure you do some research on what makes up a good story before diving in. One of my favorite books so far is How Real Stories Work: Exploring the Physics of Fiction. This book has helped me define so many moments for my characters and plot! I wish I had read it sooner.