Plotting and pantsing--two words passed around writer's circles constantly. People who are one or the other often wear their label with pride, thinking that their way is inherently better than the other way. For those of you who aren't familiar with these terms, here are some definitions:
Plotter: One who organizes, plans, plots, outlines, synopsizes, characterizes, takes copious notes, makes a storyboard, researches, figures out scene and sequel before putting pen to paper. Before they sit down at the computer, they know exactly what's going to happen in their story and feel confident that every scene flows into the next and all loose ends are neatly tied up. --sourcePantser: One who writes by "the seat of her pants". A writer who gets an idea for a story and/or characters and who might do some early thinking about basic story plots or characterization, but who for the most part, works off the "leap of faith" principle: "the characters will take me where they want me to go and everything will work out in the end." --source
Plotting vs. Pantsing
In defense of a plan:
- Without good planning, your story will end up messy and filled with holes
- If you don't work out your characterizations beforehand, you will write flat characters because you don't know their history
- Plotting helps avoid writer's block because you know what you have to write about next
- This makes it easier to plant early hints, red herrings, foreshadowing, etc.
- Knowing the big picture ahead of time helps you solidify things like theme, pacing, and story arcs.
For love of the spontaneous:
- Plotting smothers creativity
- You should let your characters lead you
- If you end up with a mess at the end, you can always revise it
- Not knowing what's coming makes it more exciting to write
- Beautiful surprises can happen while you're writing this way
- Outlining and writing down each detail is boring
A lot of the decision to go one way or the other may have to do with your own personality. Are you a checklist, organized kind of person or a go with the flow person?
I have a hard time deciding on which side I fall. I think I'm a bit of a combination. In life, I'm more a planner. Every weekend, I go through recipes and plan out the meals for the week, then make my grocery list--separated into sections that correspond with the aisles of the grocery store. I stick to a routine daily and rarely deviate from it.
However, in other ways, I'm a complete pantser. This blog, for instance, is never planned. Beyond knowing that I'm going to do WIP on Wednesday and this theme on Friday, I don't have an idea of what I'm going to write about until I wake up. This is why most of the time my post don't get up here until lunchtime.
So I've decided on a new category to apply to myself. I'm going to call it the Clark Griswold (from National Lampoon's Vacation).
Clark has good intentions. He has a rough plan of what's going to happen on his family's trip. They are headed to Wally World--he knows his ending. Along the way, he plans a few more stops. Largest ball of twine anyone? How about the Grand Canyon?
However, during his journey, he stumbles upon things that are way more interesting than what he thought. There's conflict. Blown up cars. Dead aunts. Murdered dogs. (Okay, it really is a funny movie if you haven't seen it, although my description is making it sound morbid).
Along with the conflict, new characters pop up out of the blue. Including ones that completely distract him from his journey. Like Christie Brinkley in the red convertible.
Although I hope my distraction would look more like Alexander Skarsgard from True Blood. Can't you just picture him in a red convertible, blond hair whipping in the wind. Okay, I digress.
So, although Clark has a general plan, he ends up experiencing a very different trip than he expected. He lets himself be led by the things and people around him. Then when he reaches the end he thought he wanted, he gets something very different, but much more fun. He literally punches his original plan in the face.
So I think that's what I am--a clark. I start out with a plan. My outline usually consists of a page of scribbles (including a beginning, an end, and a few points of conflict) and a couple of rough notes about my main characters. Then I just start writing and let the characters and story lead me. And most often, the story (including the end) that I originally planned look nothing like my original idea, but I like it better.
So how about you? Where do you fall on the Plotter/Pantser scale? What benefits do you find from your style? Are there any other clarks out there?
**Today's Theme Song**
"Holiday Road"--National Lampoon's Soundtrack
(player in sidebar, come on, you know you can't resist)