November 21, 2011

Pantster or Plotter?

This seems to be an endless debate in the writing world.

In the past when asked this question, I would have immediately responded with 'pantster'. I am one of those who writes a synopsis after the story is complete. (I'll be in big trouble if I ever have to sell on a proposal.) Oh, I always have a general idea of where the story is going. In fact most times I have the ending in mind before the beginning. However, what comes in the middle often comes in fits and spurts and flashes of inspiration as I go. I rarely write a story straight through from beginning to end. I write what I have spinning in my head at the moment and then connect the dots later. Toward the finish line of a manuscript, I'll make a detailed play by play of each chapter so I can see where there are holes and such, but this doesn't happen until I'm far, far along in the process.

However, in the very recent past, I've discovered I have a bit of 'plotter' in me. I tend to get inspired by songs. One in particular by a favorite artist has always made me think, "Wow, that would be a great start to a story." But I never really did anything about it beyond that. Until the other day. I actually sat down and wrote two pages of notes about my story idea.

Then out of the blue on another day, an idea for a Thanksgiving story came to me. I was a little surprised by its arrival...usually something triggers an idea...but this one quite literally started niggling in my brain all by itself. So, I plunked myself down at the keyboard and wrote three pages of notes about this one.

And you know what? These pages of notes? They looked suspiciously like a synopsis. There's character development, plot, conflict (both internal and external), and a few basic scene outlines. I've also started making some detailed notes for a re-write I need to work on. Hmn? Have I gone over to the other side?

I guess every author has to find what works for him or her. And maybe the technique is different from book to book. So what about you? Are you a pantster, a plotter, or somewhere in the middle?


Debra St. John
www.debrastjohnromance.com
A Christmas to Remember: available now from The Wild Rose Press

17 comments:

Debra St. John said...

Hi Anna Kathryn,

Thanks for letting me take over your blog today!

Jennifer Wilck said...

Hi Debra, no, no, no, don't go over to the dark side! :) Just kidding. You know I'm a pantser, but outlines and notes definitely come in handy. I think you might be right, that it does depend on the story. I think it also depends on timing--do you have the time to write that story from your head or do you need to do it in fits and starts, thereby maybe requiring an outline of some sort so you don't lose your train of thought?

Nancy Jardine said...

Hi ladies. Have to go along with Jennifer on the time available. Basically I am a pantser, but am attempting to become a plotter now having had one novel(1st ever) published by TWRP. Having gone through edits etc I now know all those littel scribbles and bits on scraps of paper are probably all going to be useful at some stage.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Debra. Thanks for stopping by. I'm a panster, but I think even us pansters are a little bit of a plotter. I've yet to write a 3-page outline before I start the story, though.

Ginger Simpson said...

I'm a pantser, too. The only difference is I don't know the book's ending until I get there. My characters are my muse, and without their input, I'm lost. There have been only two cases where I've been able to even imagine a synopsis...one ending I dreamed, and the other was the only book Ive written without a character leading the way. I have to tell you, the journey was a lot more difficult. I can't plot for the life of me.

Lynne Marshall said...

I'm definitely an in-betweener when it comes to plotting. I do a synopsis, but when I write the book a whole other story emerges.

Leigh D'Ansey said...

I've always been a pantster but am working hard now on plotting because my panstering really slows me down. I've been reading James Scot Bell's 'Plot & Structure' and finding it strikes a chord with the way I work. I also like Kristen Lamb's blog for tips on writing and structure.

Debra St. John said...

Hi Jennifer, Thanks for stopping by. The method really does seem to depend on the story.

Nancy, Those scribbles are VERY important! Hang on to them all! And congrats on your first novel!

Ginger, There are many stories out there nowadays that started as dreams.

Lynn, Stories do tend to go their own way sometimes.

Leigh, those sound like great resources. Thanks for sharing them.

Anna Kathryn, I guess we all have a bit of the other inside ourselves!

Katherine said...

I'm a pantser with a tiny bit of plotter. I write one or two sentences per chapter, more to keep me on track than anything else. I also make notes and jot down ideas and such as they occur.

Debra St. John said...

Katherine, Taking notes when ideas strike is a great idea. I keep a note pad by my bed just in case something comes to me in the middle of the night!

Ana Morgan said...

I crashed and burned as a pantser and crawled over to the plotter side. As I get more proficient at plotting, I think I'll end up in between.

Debra St. John said...

Hi Ana,

Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what works best.

Mackenzie Crowne said...

I would like to be a plotter but I can't get around the simple joy of tagging along with the characters to see what happens next. I do give them a really basic outline, and depending on who they end up being, they sometimes follow it. As for synopsis, I'm still trying to figure out a way to never have to do one, before or after.

Calisa Rhose said...

I think I've become the new breed of plotser. Half-n-half pantser and plotter. I find myself making notes sometimes and for one idea I actually have story boarding started! Color me shocked since typically- I get an idea, I sit, I write until it comes to an end. Done. No days or weeks (never months) of plotting and planning for me. I'd forget it before I wrote a page, or get bored with the waiting to write.

marybelle said...

You sound like you surprised yourself. As a reader I don't mind HOW you get there.

Paula Martin said...

Your first paragraph described me exactly! I'd feel very restricted by plotting too much in advance. I like being surprised by the direction in which my characters take me at times.

Debra St. John said...

Mackenzie, Letting the characters have their way is an excellent way to get a book finished...although soemtimes they surprise you, don't they?

Calisa, Oooh, a story board sounds like fun!

Marybelle, so true!

Paula, Surprises are nice, aren't they? Sometimes portions of my books turn out quite differently than I expected.