Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pantsing, Plotting, and Hybrids

Pantsing? Plotting? What are we, middle school students? Well, maybe. But we're also writers, and while every one of us has a process unique unto ourselves, we also share a few common methods. So which way do you lean?

Here's a CliffNotes-style refresher:

  • Pantsers are those who write by the seats of their pants. No plan, no outline, nothing is set in stone. The story emerges with a life all its own, often taking unexpected twists and turns along the way.
  • Plotters are those who use some kind of story map (like the Snowflake Method) or serious outlining to keep their work on track from start to finish. They know almost every detail about their story before they even get started.
When I started writing as a zit-faced twelve-year-old, I was a pure pantser. I had no idea what my stories were about or where they would take me. Often, I just had a few characters and an exciting situation to start with, and I went from there. It was exhilarating.

This method worked well for about twenty years. Then I started trying to get published, and I found that some of my work needed major revision to keep it focused. My pantsing ways had created more than a few tangents in need of pruning.

But I'm addicted to the adrenaline rush of discovering where my story is going; it's like riding a runaway train at times, and my pen can hardly keep up. But there are pitfalls, too. When I write myself into a corner and have no clue where to go next, I wish I had some idea how the tale as a whole should play out.

All this to say, as a recovering pantser, I find value in some of the ways of the plotter, and lately I've been doing a bit of informal outlining to make sure my stories have a definite beginning, middle, and end well before I set fingers to keyboard.

So what are you? A pantser, a plotter, or some kind of unique hybrid in between?

20 comments:

  1. Anonymous4/04/2012

    I don't understand the pantser concern that they have to discover the story as they write. When I outline I'm discovering the story but without putting down all the detail. If later I need to revise then that's OK. If I was a faster writer and able to better ignore the errors and plot hole as I wrote then maybe I could be more pantser but those details slow me down.

    To each their own.

    Dave K

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    1. As a recovering perfectionist, I'm trying to learn how to ignore the errors in my sloppy copies and forge ahead -- but it ain't easy.

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  2. It depends what you mean by a pantser. When I start I know the beginning, the end and a few other bits along the way. The rest of it is unplanned. Is that pantsing or semi-pantsing?

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    1. I'd say it's semi-pantsing, or maybe half-pantsed!

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  3. I'm a hybrid. I usually work out most of the plot, but as I go I let the story evolve as it will. Or it takes a different focus during revisions.

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    1. Hybrids are becoming more popular these days...

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  4. I started out straight panster, but I've learned to plot more to save valuable revision time. So I guess that makes me a hybrid something or other. My favorite method is to know the beginning and the end as well as my character and then just see how they get from point A to point B.

    My flash fiction story Continuation is now up over at Apollo's Lyre! You can find it Here.

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    1. It does save time in the end, doesn't it? And hey everybody, go check out Charity's story!

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  5. I would say that, for me, it varies from story to story.

    That said, I find that my first drafts tend to be very unsatisfying for anything longer than ~ 2000 words if I don't give some serious thought to the story arc ahead of time.

    A flash or a shortish short story I can often just bang out as I go, though.

    Someone -- I don't remember who -- recently talked about a concept like "scope of story." How much of a story they could keep in their head. I suspect that has partially to do with the amount of plotting I have to do to proceed with a story.

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    1. I've noticed that with myself as well -- how much of the story I can keep in my head and modify as I type will determine whether I need some kind of outline.

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  6. I tend to be a pantser and mostly write short fiction - which can be tricky when you get to the end and there isn't really an end!
    I have tried outlining but then found myself bouncing around writing chapters out of order because I could see the idea and that chapter suddenly intrigued me - then got all tangled up and gave it up.
    So the next time I start in on a novel I think I'll try Martin's way of figuring out the beginning and end & a few ideas first and then just go for it.

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    1. Sounds like a good plan. With my longer WiPs, I have definite dots that need to be connected from beginning to end, but how I progress from one to the next is always a surprise.

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  7. A panster all the way, baby. At least for my short stories. For my novels, I'm still experimenting.

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    1. Lately with my short stories, I'll pants it thinking I'm writing a flash-sized tale, then it'll grow to about 3 or 4K -- and I'm perfectly OK with that, as long as the end result is solid. I think I'm still experimenting with the longer WiPs too.

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  8. Interesting journey you're on. I've pansted a few times in the beginning, and gotten a decent story or two, but only after massive rewrites. Plotting is my way to go. It makes me happy. :)

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    1. I'm definitely learning to see the value in it! Even just a rough list of sequential plot points has been helpful in my latest WiP.

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  9. Panster for short stories, plotter for longer works. You have to be able to keep some stuff in your head though. I can't just read through my notes and keep focus. Maybe I have to write better notes. :)

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    1. I've started recording my notes, but the sound of my voice puts me to sleep...

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  10. I'm somewhere in the middle--well, probably closer to the pantser side. I have a very vague idea. I tend to stew and think and ponder for a long time. Years even, keeping it all in my head. Then, usually in November for NaNo, I sit down and let it all spill out. Then I spend the next year fixing!

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    1. We should let our first drafts be sloppy copies and spill away; there's a lot of freedom there. And whatever we write is always better than whatever we don't! Or something like that.

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