Monday, October 17, 2011

Plotter vs. Pantser

In writing communities, there seems to be two kinds of people: plotters and pantsers. Pretty much everyone I've met has been one of the two, or one masquerading as the other. It happens. Today I've decided to talk a little bit about both and what being them means.

The Plotter:
What: Plotters are those people who can't work without the idea settled in their brains. They know what they want because they've spent time thinking about it. A plotter will always have most of his or her story mapped out before he or she sits down to write.

Benefits: Plotters always know where their story is going. They always have a solid direction to aim for. Plotters have a chance to look at the overall direction of the story and know, before they set out, that something isn't right. They come to the table prepared.

Possible drawbacks: It takes time to be a plotter. All that preparedness doesn't just happen. It takes work, and that work can take time. On the flip side, a well-plotted book before the first draft could mean less work down the line, too. Also, I find that having a plotted book beforehand can make some plotters rigid. Sometimes, they can't allow themselves room to change things if they've plotted something too specifically. It can make it harder if you run into trouble later down the road.

The Pantsers:

What: Pantsers are those people who fly by the seat of their pants during the first draft. They are the kind of people who have a vague idea of a theme or a couple of scenes, but that's about it. They make things up as they go along, and don't worry about not knowing what's going to happen next. The characters will lead them there.

The benefits: Being a pantser can be exciting. There isn't any pressure. They can change something at the drop of a dime. It's also very freeing to be a pantser. There isn't any of the rigidity like in the plotter's world. Also, sometimes the story will go places you never would have dreamed it would go before you sat down. There is the possibility of having a better story then even you would have dreamed.

Possible downsides: It can be a tough road for a pantser. When things are going great, there isn't a problem. Ideas are flowing and characters are having fun (or not, depending on the story). But when suddenly those ideas run out – and trust me, they will at some point – there is nothing for a pantser to fall back on. Also, there could be a need for a ton of rewriting if the story got off track enough during the drafting process.

Now, there are variations within those distinctions. For instance, you have the plotters that spend months making lists and coming up with character back story and settings and planning out of every detail including what the character got on their third birthday and the first time they vomited. Then, you have the plotters who write a one page vague description of the "events" in the novel. Both are still plotters, and there are a million degrees between them.

I always thought of myself as a pantser. I've written pretty much all my novels starting with a vague idea of the themes and a half-formed idea of how I wanted the thing to end. I'm learning, however, that I think I might be a plotter. Or, at least, I think I want to be a plotter.

Let me explain. I'm currently in rewriting mode. This is the third draft I've done of my story. After a lengthy, hours-long conversation with my critique partner last night, I'm considering throwing out my last few months of work and starting fresh again because there are problems with the plot. All this because I wrote the first draft with no idea what was happening. So, a large chunk of the story sucked. I knew it sucked, but I was in denial. Now I have lost a few months work and have so much more looking forward to me. I'm not excited.

That's why, for NaNoWriMo this year, I'm going to plot out my story idea. It's something I've never done, so I'm a little nervous. But, that's what I'm going to spend my next two weeks doing, instead of agonizing over my current WIP. Because that needs a break.

So tell me, are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you think that you are really one but act like the other (like me)? If your a plotter (or even if you're not), do you have any tips for me and my two-week plotting adventure? I'd love to know!