Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #272 -- Plotting vs. Pantsing

What about you, Sean -- are you a plotter or a pantser?

I prefer this.
I guess it's only fair that I respond to my own question, huh. Okay.

When I started writing, I was a strict pantser. Just sit down and start typing into the word processor or start scribbling in longhand on a beat-up yellow legal pad (depending whether I was at home or riding the train to work at the time). Outlines be damned. Nothing must interfere with the conduit flow from brain to paper.

And that worked fine... until I started writing longer stories and comic books.

For comics, if I didn't have an outline that took page counts into effect, I would have repeated the mistake of of my first full issue script -- having to rush my ending to hit the 22-page limit imposed on me by my publisher.

For my longer form stories that started going into 10k or 15k territory, I discovered that it was far too easy to meander and get lost in all that freedom, and suddenly I'd find myself facing the same issue as comics -- the end was in sight in word count, but the true end of the story was nowhere on the horizon.

Not this.
So I learned how to plot. And when I say plot, I mean one of two things. For comics, I fully plot with page counts and story beats and bits of dialog. For novellas and novelettes, I rough outline in paragraph form, needing to know what the goal of each segment is to progress the tale from A to B to C to Zed.

A recent story further proved to me my need to plot. I figured I'd take a shot at pantsing again and just letting the story flow unadulterated from brain to fingers -- but what should have been easy almost wiped me out and took months longer than a 15k tale should ever have taken for the non-literary, straight-up, sci-fi adventure romp it was. Without a plot document in place, each day hit me with the blank page... Where to go, what to say. Previously, with other tales with plot documents, there was no emptiness of where to go, what to say. The scene's goal and rough skeleton (who's in it, where does it take place, etc.) was already there, so all I had to worry about was getting the characters right and seeing how they told the tale.

But this could all be symptoms of my special brand of madness. Your psychological evaluation may vary.