Plotter or Pantser?

I love chatting with other writers. I learn so much.  Recently over at Steampunk Empire, one of our members created a group called: Scribblers Den. Less than a few weeks in and I am finding the varying discussions very useful and inspiring. One was the simple question: Pantser or Plotter?

A what? you say.  I first saw these terms coined in NaNoWriMo. A plotter (or planner) outlines their story in varying detail. A pantser free writes – by the seat of their pants, if you will.
This post is based on my reply.

I am essentially a pantser. But…

I get an idea – a feeling or atmosphere I want to create. I know the basics – the main character, something happens, how I would like it to end. I make notes on various scenes I can see in my head. Often the characters change the story.

I have tried to plot an entire story. At the time, I had been reading a slew of blogs and writing advice regaling the advantages of complete story outlines. I felt compelled to give it a try. I felt constrained. The characters complained. I was a grumpy sod the entire time I wrote the story. I could not wait to finish it. It suffered. Full on plotting was not for me.

Note: I do have an admission: the more I write, the more notes I make. I have to; the story keeps getting more complicated. Some threads need to be documented so they don’t end up remaining unraveled. This could be construed as plotting. I do not deny it.

I have boxes and folders for notes for specific chapters or events of my manuscript (and other stories). These notes get shuffled around into whichever box I think they may fit into at the time. This provides a rough sketch for various chapters and what events may (or may not happen) – along the lines of:
‘Ch A:heroine finds clue/discovers some background.
Ch B:Big Bad has minor win/escapes.
Ch C:Explosion. who survives? how?
Ch D:Chase ensues.
Ch E:Heroine is betrayed.’
Sometimes Ch A will end up being Ch F, as the Big Bad decides Ch E is his first concern. (Follow?)

The first chapter I wrote – the one that got me hooked on writing my current manuscript – The Department of Curiosities – was actually intended to be Chapter 2. It has now been pushed to possibly Chapter 11 (subject to change).

When I start a chapter, I read all my notes. I keep some and move others, depending on how the story has changed. Some get ditched into my ‘maybe some other time’ box. Sometimes I ignore all the notes and just go with the flow. I may write some vague notes on the antics events for the current chapter and possible consequences for future chapters. Occasionally this may mean the ‘exact’ events of the ending changes (though the basic essence and feeling of the ending, and the fate of the protagonist has remained the same).

This makes for slow writing but I have been much happier allowing my characters more flexibility. I feel less claustrophobic. I have more fun. I can play with the words. It is more cathartic. I find I get more interesting plot twists and machinations.

That is me. A mostly-pantser who tries to reign in the chaos with occasional plotting, who gives into the cacophony  (I love that word!) of voices in her head.

organising boxes

A bit like my gardening.


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