Thursday, February 7, 2013

Plotting and Pantsing: A Writers' Roundtable

 
PLOTTING?

OR PANTSING?

Lots of stuff to cover for this one, so let's just skip my intro and get right into it, shall we?

What is your preferred method, plotting or pantsing?

Ray Witte: Plotter. I find it helps to keep the narrative going and coherent. If something is in one of my stories, it is there for a reason. The disadvantages are that sometimes I'll end up rushing a story so I can get to an interesting plot point (that's not bad, I can always go back and flesh things out) and sometimes you have a plot that sounded good, but really sucks, then you need to do a whole rework. Yes, rarely, and when I do it is my best work. Sometimes I'll have a paragraph in my head that is so good that I will be compelled to build a story around it. But it is very, very, very rare.

Rob Cerio: I am a Pantser and proud of it. I choose to be a Pantser simply because I like the freedom to head down the rabbit hole and see where it will take me, dashing out that first draft as quickly as the ideas come to me.. It has led to many fun and interesting places in my novels. The big disadvantage is sometimes it takes me a whole two chapters before I realize the plot is moving in the wrong direction, and while I wouldn't call the effort wasted, it certainly feels counter productive sometimes. I have shifted to the other side once, on a project that I knew required a fair amount of historical accuracy, but I felt unclean for weeks afterwards. Never went beyond a simple outline ever again.

Jim Beard: I'd say, for me, its a bit of both plotting and throwing caution to the wind. My outlines are loose, but provide me a roadmap of where I want to go. Then, I begin writing and allow for wild hairs. This keeps things exciting and lively for me, and, hopefully, for the readers. I think you can outline something into the ground and blow any bit of spontaneity that may exist in your grand concept for the piece, and if that happens, you might as well not even begin.

Robby Hilliard: Plotting. I really use a combination of the two. I plot out key scenes and then, once I know those scenes, I write it more in a pantsing fashion. Sometimes I will plan out the entire scene via story boarding because I need to know what it is that I intend to accomplish in that scene. Basically, if I can list my six key scenes and it is still a story that excites me, then I have a story that is ready to be written! If I can’t list out those six scenes I may still begin writing but at some point I will have to know what they are. For me, those six scenes are: the opening, inciting incident, plot point one, mid-point, plot point two, and climax. This is, of course, a “working outline/plot” and if could change as I’m writing the story. But if it is going to change, it has to be a change that makes it a better story!

Kathleen Bradean: A mix of plotting and pantsing. I know how the story starts and ends and most of what happens between but I discover the story as I write it. That does not mean I let the characters hijack the story. We're headed somewhere specific and they're going to get there. Alternate routes, however, are fine.

Borgy Borgonia: I prefer full plot/script.

D. Alan Lewis: I always plot a story out, to some degree. I depends on how much is going on and how many details I need to make sure are included. In the case of my first novel, a murder mystery, I had a very detailed outline in place in order to help me keep track of everything. The second novel was more action-oriented and had a very basic outline.

Josh Dahl: I never "pants". I plot, plot, plot. I plot big, and then I break it down smaller. Then I plot that. Then I lay out my scenes. Everything is carefully planned. But once I have that jungle-gym... then I can play.

Selah Janel: I usually use a mix of the two. I have a general storyline in mind, and I usually have a definite ending or destination. However, I also give my characters a lot of room to develop or change my mind about certain plot points. I think it's important not to hold too tightly to an idea, because you risk losing out on some great ideas or subplots. I suppose this makes me a Plantser...maybe a Plontser?

Bill Craig:
I start with a one or two paragraph idea and then set it up and start introduce that characters and see where they take me.

Lee Houston Jr.: I guess I'm somewhere in the middle. While I do work out the important details like the suspects and solution in a Hugh Monn, Private Detective mystery; I don't completely plot a story from the first word to the last. What I do is list key moments and scenes that I want to include in my story and unite them all in a coherent whole.

Erwin K. Roberts: I'm in between. I don't do outlines, but I don't do pantsing either (sounds like something you'd see at a strip club). I work it all out in my head. Once I figure out the ending I can sit down and start writing.

Bobby Nash: A little of both, I guess. For the most part, I’m a pantser, I suppose. At least that’s what I’ve been told. I start with a very loose plot. I don’t start writing until I know my characters, the story’s beginning, ending (although I allow for the opportunity to adjust as the story grows), and the plot points (I call them signposts) along the way. Then I start writing toward the first signpost. This is the method that I’ve found works best for me, especially in terms of longer works like novels. For short stories, sometimes pantsing is the way to go – just follow your characters and see where they end up.

Wayne Reingal: When writing a short story, 6000 words +/-, I usually just have an idea and maybe a few minor key points, before I start writing.

When writing a short novel, 15,000-50,000 words, I might do a quick outline of what chapters go where, and a few key scenes that I want to appear somewhere in the story.

But when I write one of those epic length novels, 140-200k words, what Ric Croxton refers to as kitchen sink books, I use outlines, notes, Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and even calender charts. I even chreated a 24" x 36" timeline poster to keep the ages of all the characters straight. When writing stories that involve more than 50 characters, traveling around the world and flashbacks to key points in history, it takes more that the usual outline skills to make everything mesh together seamlessly. Even with all that, I usually move one or two chapters during the final proofs, simply to make the story flow smoother.

Elizabeth Schechter: Depends. If the story is under 10,000 words, then I pants it. If it is over that, I plot it out.

Ralph L Angelo Jr.: Pantsing. I usually start with a very loose plot and just fill in the details as I go. I know I start at point A and have to end at point B It’s the ride in-between that gets written on the go.

What are the advantages that make you choose ____________ (plotting/pantsing) as your prefered writing style?

Scott Sandridge: I always pants on short stories after coming up with a character and goofing around with the character until a couple scenes pop in my head (which ironically almost never end up in the story). With longer works I'll plot, but then toss the outline in the trash by chapter 2.

Mandi M. Lynch: I've found if I sit and plan a story out too much I no longer care about it by the time I get around to writing it. Instead, if it's a long piece, I keep a timeline. If it's a short piece, I write the first sentence that comes to mind and see where it takes me. I've found that this approach gives me a much more organic, relaxed story and my characters aren't forced into things they don't want to do.

Robby Hilliard: If I don’t have a complete story idea in my head then I feel as if I don’t have a goal to write toward, so outlining/plotting helps me stay focused.

Kathleen Bradean: The advantage of discovering the story while I write it is that I write a lot I don't use in the final draft. Oh. Wait. Not good, or efficient. But it works for me. I'm a big proponent of the 'whatever works for you is the right way' approach.

Borgy Borgonia: Full plotting avoids holes in the story more often than note (it's not a foolproof method, though). And it's easy enough to edit out fluff, in case the dialogue will tend to fill too much of the panels.

Ralph L Angelo Jr.: The writing becomes fun because you really do not know where you are going to take this. It sort of develops on its own. You are along for the ride as much as the reader will be. Sometimes you have to go back and clean it up, but for the most part it’s more fun doing it this way. When you are finished with a book or even a chapter and you’re really happy with the outcome it can leave a big grin on your face.

Brian Germain: I use pantsing as a form of brainstorming at times when Plotting isn't going well for me. The advantage is that it's very concise and orderly, the disadvantage for plotting to me is when I try to do something and execute the order that it should be in the book and then think of something new or have to rearrange the order or when I need to fill in a blank and can't. With pantsing the advantage is that it is written in the order you write it and often flows into the next thought, and you can always rearrange it by plotting it out better. The Disadvantage of pantsing for me is that it is too chaotic to go just from script to visual form when writing in that style most of the time and so I end up needing to do about 5 drafts or more.

Selah Janel: Both have advantages, and I try to exploit the advantages of both. It's good to know where you're going with a plot, as well as high points you definitely want to cover or a definite point where you want things to end. There are usually certain characters or traits that are not negotiable for me, but I also find that I can discover a lot about a character or environment I'm writing about by letting what happens happen. This usually gives me a few things that I didn't have planned, but enrich the overall story.

Lee Houston Jr.:  I find that if my plots are not completely set in stone, then if another idea arises  along the way, I can include it and alter things accordingly more easily.

D. Alan Lewis: For me, I need an outline to help me keep track of everything that I’ve planned out. Without one, I’d be going back, time and time again, to revise and add details that I’d forgotten to include.

Bobby Nash: Pantsing can help you find those unexpected story elements that happen either by happy accident or as a result of watching your characters. A character can say something ¾ of the way into the story that makes you and your character start to see the preceding chapters in a new light that can add depth to the story. I have multiple examples of this type of thing happening in my stories.

Plotting can help your keep your story focused, especially if you’re the type of writer who wanders off on side trips often.

For me, I like a melding of the two. If I fully plot a story I find myself unexcited in the writing stage because I feel like I’ve already written the story and will want to move on to something knew as opposed to writing it again. Pantsing can add elements to a story. I wrote a chapter for an upcoming novel featuring two new characters. I had no clue how they or the chapter fit into the novel as a whole, but it was what felt right and I had to write it down. I figured I could always take the chapter out of the manuscript and use it elsewhere if need be. Two chapters later I realized who these new characters were and how they fit into the overall plot. They were important to the story, but my subconscious just got there faster than my conscious mind.

What are the disadvantages you've encountered in that style?

Mandi M. Lynch:  I have occasionally gotten to a point where I don't know how to get where I need to be or where I realize I've gone off on a tangent I can't use.

Robby Hilliard: The only thing I have encountered in this approach that could be considered a disadvantage is more of a personal thing. I don’t like to start writing until I know where a story is going. Many folks, a lot of pantsers I suspect, don’t see not knowing exactly where it’s going as an obstacle so they may simply begin writing. I think relying on the plotting approach may hold me back a bit on actually getting started at times.

D. Alan Lewis:
Disadvantages? Having an outline in place can cause you to overlook other creative paths that your story could take as you are writing. Also, characters have a tendency to move the story in ways that the writer may not have intended. As a result, you steer off the course you’ve set up in the outline.

Ralph L Angelo Jr.: The main disadvantage is that you can go dry and be stuck at a certain point until your subconscious works it out if your conscious hasn’t already. There have literally been days when I woke up and had to run to turn the PC on to start typing because there was the answer to my question all along.

Borgy Borgonia: It can sometimes be difficult to adjust when you have that "eureka" moment where you think of injecting something brilliant and try to inject it somewhere, sometimes to the point you'd have to do it all again just to make it error-free.

Selah Janel: Both also have their disadvantages. If you plot things out too tightly, you run the risk of keeping dead wood that may not be working to your advantage, plus you lose out on some tidbits that may have enriched the story that occur organically as you're writing. On the other hand, if you let it all hang out and don't plot anything out, you can end up with a lot of material that may divert from the main story line that has to be edited out later.

Lee Houston Jr.: Whether you plot or pants, not having an idea or discovering the hard way that an idea you did have won't work stinks.

Bobby Nash: Pantsing can lead a writer off on weird tangents that end up either going nowhere or adding nothing of value to the story and has to be cut. You have to be careful. Detailed plotting can sometimes take the spontaneity out of your writing. For me, I hate feeling like I’m writing it twice.

Do you ever find yourself shifting to the other side for a project? If so, what made you do that?

D. Alan Lewis:
I’ve written a few short stories without an outline because they were short enough that I could mentally keep track of everything. I can’t see myself writing a novel without one.

Ralph L Angelo Jr.: No, I really haven't done a heavily plotted story. The only one that coule be considered close to that is ‘Redemption of the Sorcerer’ I knew they were going to be globe hopping and where they’d end after each hop, but even then it was lightly plotted. I just had a framework in place. Yes that’s a good word for it a framework and I build from there.

John R. White: I write backwards, with the final Idea. Then move forward with enedmark as my goal. Then when done, I leave it alone and come back with a pair of big-ass pruning sheers...which is what Im doing right now.

Robby Hilliard: Although I may have a story plot actually outlined and I may have key scenes laid out with detailed notes about what they need to accomplish, the “how” of it is often left up to whatever comes to mind as I am writing those scenes. So in that sense, I think I get a little of the pantser approach in as well. But I have yet to simply start with a vague idea and create the entire story as I go along and I’ve never felt the need to do so with a story I’ve worked on. Hmmm…, maybe I need to try that sometime.

Kathleen Bradean: A couple years ago I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo and that I'd make it an experiment in methods I don't use (different software, etc.), A month before NaNoWriMo I researched the snowflake method for outlines and spent a lot of time developing one. On the plus side, once November started, every day I knew exactly what had to happen next so I didn't waste time staring into space trying to figure that out. It wasn't as if my creativity was stifled. It simply changed the way I was creative. It was good for a disciplined approach to writing every day and cranking out a novel in a short time frame. At the end of NaNoWriMo I had a complete first draft. Pretty sweet! Except that it sucked. I completely rewrote that novel three times before I had a draft I could work with. So no real time gain there. Would I outline again? No. At least not to that extent. But most of the first steps of the snowflake method are useful even for pantsers.

Borgy Borgonia: I only shift to pantsing when a) deadline or target is too close, or b) the aforementioned eureka moments.

Brian Germain: Just one or the other wasn't going well sometimes I feell like the story itself dictates which one you go with primarily.

Selah Janel: When I write for anthologies or magazines, I have to be more of a plotter, especially with smaller word counts. If I only have so many words to craft a story, then every single one counts. In a lot of ways those stories keep me on my game and make me a better writer. However, in my longer works it always works to my advantage to stay open to ideas that occur to me out of nowhere. Even if I have to go back and rework the plot to make things line up, it usually enriches the plot and makes things much more interesting or deeper for the characters.

Lee Houston Jr.: Not being solidly in either camp to begin with, I can't really say when I do or don't switch sides. But any time I'm in need of a new idea in the middle of a story would be the reason.

Bobby Nash:
Not exclusively. As I mentioned, I take the best parts from each and meld them into a style that works for me. Thankfully, with writing there are no hard and fast rules on how the writer gets the story told. Formatting and grammatical issues come later, but in terms of getting the story down I take it on a project by project basis.


A mysterious writer makes a strong
case for "pantsing" -- even if she did
misunderstand the meaning of the term.