Monday, August 22, 2011

Can a pantser become a plotter?

Every writer has their own style when it comes to their approach to writing. Generally it is possible to group those approaches into two categories: The Plotter or The Pantser. A plotter will have their storyline planned ahead of starting to write. This will normally include character profiles and scene plans. The pantser will have nothing planned, other than an idea. They will sit down in front of the keyboard and type away (or 'fly by the seat of their pants, hence pantser.)

I have to confess to being a pantser and there were several times during this first attempt at novel writing when I thought, 'Surely, there is an easier way!' I think much of that stems from having completed NaNoWriMo and then cutting the vast majority of that plus changes to the storyline/title/just about everything. In truth, when I started out I really didn't have much of a clue as to what I was up to but just getting on with it proved to be a massive help with the learning curve. So now, ten months later, at the end of the first, I must consider the second and decide what I consider were my mistakes and what were part of my process.

Part way through this and before the Festival of Writing, I read Plotting the Novel by Michael Legat. It helped me write a synopsis in preparation for the festival and I did wonder if I had written the synopsis earlier, would it have made the whole process easier? I re-wrote the synopsis just before sending it to the NWS as the plot had changed again so I also wonder if I write a synopsis, is there any hope I will actually stick to it? To see if it is, for my next project I plan to do one ahead of starting to write and then find out if the end project bares any resemblance when I'm finished. Presently I am reading Elizabeth George's Write Away and she is an advocate for planning so I will also follow some of her advice. Who knows if the pantser can become a plotter?

So are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you ever tried a different approach to your writing style?


  1. I've tried lots of different things, but what seems to work best for me is to plot out the main turning points along the way, then fill in the blanks. But every book seems to have its own unique demands!

  2. Hi Katy,

    I'm a panster, when I was writing short stories it was never a big deal, I could always work out the story, and still do.

    Then I started my first novel, and got to 30k and lost the plot. I found I couldn't keep it all in my head. I had let the characters have free reign, and basically with no outline to work to, I had written myself into a corner.

    The manuscript languishes in a file, in the hope that one day I'll sit down and work it out...

    In November 2010 I did my first NaNoWriMo novel, and yes I did my target 50k, so I knew I could do the work, but once again, I had no be fair I only decided to take the challenge two days beforehand, and I did write a few chapter plans, but now find myself in a similar situation.

    It made me unhappy, and unsettled and I began to doubt myself as a writer. So in desperation I put a plea out to my friends on Twitter, and on my blog.

    The response was amazing, I was given lots of feedback on how others plan, as well as ideas on how to rescue my WIP. I quickly realised everyone has a different take on how to do it.

    I'm in the middle of sorting things out, its going to be hard to get back on track, yet I feel so much better about carrying on now, thanks to other writers not being precious about how they do things, and taking time to listen.

    I am very much hoping this panster can become a plotter.


  3. I'm a pantser, but with the knowledge that I will need to do some plotting once the first draft's done...and again after second draft etc.

    My novel started out very, very simple - one big plot-line. With each re-write it has become more complex and I have seen the threads running through it more and more clearly.

    I'm now on what I hope is my final re-write and then it'll be editing and fine-tuning.

  4. I'm a plotting panster! I start off with a plot but seem to discard it by the third chapter or so and fly by the seat of my pants. I've given up trying to write 'this' or 'that' way - its takes all the fun out of it!


  5. I think that is what I will find, Talli. It will be the central points. Not sure I can ever be organised enough to have it all to hand before I start. I'm too scatty!

    Maria - I think I'm lucky to have come up with a complete story. If I had planned more I could have thought through the fore-shadowing but by chance I think it has worked out okay. I hope planning more will make the next a stronger story. I am certain you will get out of the jam, Maria. As soon as you are out of the bottleneck it'll all be flowing again! x

  6. Clare & Christine - I think I'm somewhere in between the two. I thought I would try differently this time to try and find what suits me!

  7. Plot, plot, plot. Can a pantser become a plotter? YES. I did. Used to be rubbish at plot and preferred to wing it. About TEN unpublished novels later, I thought maybe I should try another approach.

    It worked. Ha!

  8. Maybe this will be a worthwhile experiment if you are the example, Jane! I'm not sure how completely I can plot ahead of a project but I won't know until I've tried!

  9. A bit of both, I guess.

    I do character sheets for the main players, and a rough outline of a plot.

    A couple of years ago, I put an older WIP in the drawer when I lost the plot 25k words into the story. Then I wrote Highland Arms in one go. Once that was out of the way, I returned to the original story I started 7 years ago and finally completed it in May. Suddenly I'd sussed my own way and it works! ~happy dance~

    Plot outline, with some added twists and turns along the way. Forcing the MCs to travel through medieval England and Normandy suddenly opened unexpected doors.

    Does that make me a panting plotter? ;-)