AS A WRITER, I AM A PANTSER, NOT A PLOTTER.
I like to make it up as I go along. I like to write dangerously without an outline and Roman numeral sub-headings and almost always knowing what comes next. If I’m surprised, the reader may be too. It’s exciting and risky to see what my characters and story will do and to write without a safety net. How, as a writer, will I get out of this plot problem when the time comes?
I’ve gone to writer’s cons where panels featured writers who either carefully plotted their novels in advance with outlines, index cards, character sketches, etc. or essentially winged it on a shoeshine and a smile. I understand the virtues and strengths of both approaches. I did write an outline for one of my published novels, Speaker of the Shakk (Mundania Press), but while it was helpful, I found there was so much I couldn’t anticipate or foresee concerning the final story. When I write a novel, I find I’m like a driver of a car in a heavy fog. I have a sense of where I’m going, but there’s so much about the journey or terrain ahead which is uncertain.
It’s that journey ahead which bothers plotters. They want guarantees and fear the unpredictable. For instance, if they don’t plot ahead . . .
How did their PANTY FETISH get in? Or . . .
What’s THAT DOING IN CHAPTER SEVENTEEN?
Yes, it’s always chancy to be a Pantser. Things may get out of control, the book may fall apart, and they may lose their way. I certainly don’t recommend it wholesale for everyone. Different strokes for different folks. Sometimes it’s wise for a writer to try a combination of both approaches for a chapter or two. If you’re a pantser, try being a plotter for a change. If you’re a plotter, let your imagination take wing for a spell. You can always ground it and go back. Both types of writers should experiment a little with the other’s style and orientation. Come to think of it, many writers naturally use a combination of the two approaches anyway.
As for me, please don’t get me wrong. Though I’m a pantser, I do have some kind of an overall plan when I sit down to write a novel. And I do admit it’s risky to do it my way. It’s just I’m not God, and I’m simply not good enough to see in advance all the things which I keep discovering should go into one of my books, which is a major reason I don’t outline in advance. In addition, this approach often enables me to experience the joy when my muse surprises me by giving me a creative gift.
For example: just recently, in the sequel to a sequel in progress, Defender of the Flame, I suddenly realized that a bit player in the background was not a bit player at all. Instead, she was a major player and she should kick-start the hero and the plot in a new and more interesting direction. Man, was I surprised and delighted. And in Book II, Kingdom of the Jax, Turtan, the hero, foolishly promised young Sky they’d not only defeat the enemy and live, but he’d cheer like a drunken hyena at her graduation. No way I intended he’d do anything with his promise, especially in a major way. But in Book III, he does!
I guess there are Pantsers and Plotters in all kinds of activities, not just in writing. Some of us make it up as we go along, just go with the flow and screw up or not. And some of us carefully plan just about everything in advance. It can apply to the way we dance, make love, live our lives, you name it. What about you? Where do you fit in the wheel of life? Are you a Pantser, a Plotter, or somewhere in-between?
For one great essay on this subject, read Cindi Myers’ “Plotter or Pantser: The Best of Both Worlds” at http://www.autocrit.com/editing/library/plotter-or-pantser-the-best-of-both-worlds
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