When Lynn did her call for Left Behind and Loving It contributors this year, I decided right off that I wanted to do a series chronicling my shift from pantser to plotter. It’s a conversion that many have made and even more fear. There’s this idea that one is born a pantser or a plotter and that never the twain shall meet.
Well, I’m living proof that that isn’t the case.
Before I go on, I feel compelled to offer a definition of this term for any who are unfamiliar with it. A “pantser” is someone who writes by the seat of their pants without a plan, without an outline, merely allowing the story and characters to go where they will. A “plotter”, by contrast, usually has some measure of plan, outline, or story map to follow before they begin writing.
All my writing life (from the age of 12 on), I have been a pantser. I tend to get bitten by the bug for a new story and I take the bit in my teeth and run with it as fas and far as I can. Inevitably this tends to run out somewhere in the vicinity of the Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle (DVSM). That’s usually the point at which I begin to wish I had a map or outline of some kind to follow so that I know what comes next. But I, like many of my fellow pantser compatriots, feared plotting.
There are many reasons for such fear. I’ll spare you the deep, psychological analysis and narrow it down to some of the most popular fears I’ve heard among fellow pantsers. Among them are:
- It will kill creativity: Many pantsers are convinced that if they do try to hammer out an entire plot before writing that it will simply kill their creativity–that their plot will simply drown like an overwatered houseplant.
- I work organically: Many pantsers feel that their plot grows out of the story itself as it is written, sprouting forth new growth each day like kudzu. They feel that plotting goes entirely against that organic approach and that fixing the story in a hard and fast outline will, again, kill their creativity.
- I learn my characters as I go: This was a huge one for me. Sometimes I will know one or two of my characters before I ever put a word on the page, but more often, I simply learn them as I go. How can I possibly plan an entire book around characters that I don’t know yet? If I don’t know them, I don’t know what they will do or how they will react to certain situations. Ergo, I cannot plot.
- Knowing what happens–where’s the fun in that? Also a huge one for me. I really love the surprise in writing. I adore when my characters pop up and do something unexpected. Knowing exactly what happens and having a detailed outline absolutely ruins that surprise. It’s like being that kid who peeks at presents before Christmas morning.
- It’s boring: The entire process of plotting is boring. There’s none of the fun of snappy dialogue or the drama of conflict. It’s like writing out the main points of a research paper–which is one of the most horrifyingly boring thinks you can do. Which brings us to…
- Feels like school: That research paper? Yeah it’s like doing homework. It sucks and it’s not fun. And finally…
- Dude, it’s HARD! Plotting is not for the faint of heart. Anybody who thinks that plotting–real plotting wherein you figure out an entire plot, built on a solid foundation of Goal, Motivation, and Conflict for the characters–is not easy. Like dieting, every time I tried I wound up falling off the wagon. Pantsing is like cookie dough–it is my diet Kryptonite–or rather my writing Kryptonite.
For some people, I really think that they feel that plotting, which is, by its very nature, a very organized sort of activity, is the absolute antithesis of the artistic personality. There’s this connotation that we’re supposed to be these organic, not quite connected to reality kind of people. Many pantsers see plotting as work. And, well, it is. I have also heard some pantsers talk with a sort of disdain for plotters, as if taking the time to plot and figure things out on the front end somehow diminishes the accomplishment of writing a book. I’ve heard born plotters (they do exist) look to pantsers (or rather their end results) with a sort of awe that they were able to take that leap of faith and just write. There’s a certain expectation that the pantser is somehow better because they don’t have to plot and organize. As if the initial imaginative spew IS the thing we read on the published page.
To that, I say, have you ever read a pantser’s true first draft? I daresay most of them bear very little resemblance to their final product. When picking your way through the pantser/plotter dynamic, never ever forget that there is much editing and revision involved.
Whether such prejudices are on the pantser side or the plotter side, they are simply not true. And that’s something I had to learn the hard way over the last three years. Despite my assorted fears, something in me kept pushing me to try to plot. I had a number of problems with pantsing that I’ll talk about tomorrow.
Are you a pantser who fears plotting? How about a plotter who’s terrified of pantsing? Let us know which side of the fence you fall on and why you’re scared of the other side, and you’ll be entered to win a gently used copy of Jennifer St. Giles’ Touch a Dark Wolf. I’m willing to ship anywhere (though if you’re outside the U.S. it’ll probably be via a slow boat…as I’m on a budget). A winner will be drawn from all commenters who comment before tomorrow’s post goes up.