How Plotting Is Like Pantsing…In Fast Forward
I love discussing process with people (and by people, I mean other writers). It’s one of my favorite forms of shop talk. Everybody has their own method, and it’s cool to share those methods and see what you can pick up from somebody else that will help out your own process. Claire and I got into one of these such discussions over the weekend. We both began as pure pantsers. I began to pursue plotting as a means to write more efficiently with my limited time. She started it because, well, when you exist in the traditionally published world, that’s kind of what you have to do, to a point. She’s wanting to do less of the hyper plotting for her next project–trying to find a better balance for her between the two extremes. I tried that with DOTH, just hitting the major story structure points and pantsing between. And it just didn’t work. Because without the details of what came between, I didn’t realize until much too late that my structure points didn’t quite work right.
Anyway, one of the things we were talking about is how so many pantsers believe that if you outline it first, you can’t change anything. Which is silly. Just because we plot something, doesn’t mean we don’t get new and better ideas as we get into the writing. I’ve replotted the last half of Riven at least twice, the last quarter maybe four times based on new insights I had while writing the rest of it. But some people feel constrained by such a plan and have a hard time changing things once something is written down. For them, I guess, the outline is like Quikcrete.
I don’t think I can ever go back to being a straight pantser, writing with no plan, no ending in mind, no specific direction but where my muse takes me. But I realized, in the course of this conversation, that I still DO my own version of pantsing. I just do it in outline form rather than drafting. My general process these days is to start out with what I think are my major plot points. And then I start filling in the gaps between them with bullet points of what I think will happen (or sometimes summary paragraphs, depending on what mood I’m in). I’m usually not thinking about character arc or the myriad of other craft components that might go into making up those individual acts. Once I have those plot points, my brain feels free to spew out a sequence of events. And then there’s an outline. And then I think about it and realize, oh this other thing will make for a better plot point here, and then I go back to the drawing board and start cutting and adding and changing. I think my YA bunny has been through 3 versions already. THIS is where I pants now. I spew out these plot threads and follow them, see where they go–I just do it in an abbreviated form, without taking all that time to follow IN the draft.
I doubt any true pantser will look at what I just said and actually AGREE that it’s a sort of pantsing, but it works for me, in my own head.
And coincidentally, Chuck Wendig did a 25 Things post this morning about outlining. Worth a read.