~We each must write according to our personal needs and compulsion~
Plot first? Find it as you go? Know the characters deepest inner everything? Just met over a drink? I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. The only correct way to write, is your way.
There is no one guru out there bearing elixir panacea for all writing ails. The best anyone can tell you, is what works for them. And therein, I believe, lies the crux of the plotter versus pantser debate. Among others *smile*
My earliest memories are of playing with army men and Lincoln logs. Creating stories for the soldiers in my head. In fact, these are the only good memories of my childhood. Story is a bastion of life.
I wrote and “published” my first public piece in second-grade. It was a wonderfully-pantsed story with each page choosing a subject with a different letter of the alphabet. A to Z. Detailed in its hallowed pages, artwork included, was a war between two peoples of the sky. I even bound it with colored string. Gotta make it look sharp for the teacher, ya know.
She was not impressed. And so, at age seven, I knew how to write, publish and take a hard critic on the chin. And, on that day, my dream remained untarnished.
But then, we age, and life – happens. When I came back to writing I was in my early thirties. Life had taught me the hard lesson of clean process. The young pantser was a lost memory in the professional mind.
As I came back to writing, I rushed into a Writer’s Digest Short Story contest. Pretty sure the judges didn’t make it past the first paragraph. At least I hope they didn’t. This told me training was required. After all, that is the way professionals approach things.
Two hundred craft books later. I found myself sitting with 150k in prep materials for each of three different projects. Zero words of fiction written. My worlds were going to be spectacular in about a decade. Guaranteed.
Plot a story? Oh yeah, got that covered. Only thing is: Zero words of fiction written. I do find moderation comes, for some of us, by having first lived through extremes.
So, here is what I’ve learned.
We each must write according to our personal needs and compulsion.
Think of it as a sliding scale, where zero is 50% plotter and 50% pantser.
Knowing yourself is the key. What things are you always going back to work out? What things do you always prep, but rarely or never use? When it comes to writing, and life, what comes naturally to you: dialogue, action sequence, metaphor?
Think of prepared items as the structure of a playground. Without these items, there would be so swings to fly on. No merry-go-round to twirl the world palette into rainbow soup. No twisted slide to conquer from bottom to top.
If you’ve ever watched children play at a playground, you know they flit from one activity to the next. Often with a running interior and exterior dialogue of the adventure before them. Must pour sand from the plastic castle and then, rock the teeter bar. And there, friends, is the mixture of plotting and pansting.
If you pants-it, what things do you always have to go back and figure out after each draft in order to make the story work? Slide a little bit to the plot-side and give the pantser-side a better image of the playground. A better idea of the world calling them to come play. After all, it is hard to have an adventure in a void.
If you plot and pre-plan, what things do you find, in retrospect, to have been extraneous? or forgotten? Playground cluttered, over-designed? Slide a bit to the pantser-side and free yourself to explore the incredible world you designed. After all, we are the first explorers of our realms. Feel the awe.
To get the most out of our time, discovering where we lie on this scale, maximizes our efforts. Think of it like the firmness to softness number on a Sleep Number bed.
Yes, everyone has a right way. Just remember as you read others systems and advice; it is simply advice. Always do what works best for you. Know yourself and you’ll maximize your time and your effort.
Where do you fall on the plotter to pantser scale? Have you switched sides over time, or even by project? I’d love to chat with you.