Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Of Plotting and Pantsing

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon.  

To plot, or not to plot: that is the question. When I wrote my first draft for my current WIP back in NaNoWriMo 2010, I had a vision of a long cherished story idea, a few vague character ideas and not much else. Outlines? I haven’t written a proper outline for a paper since I graduated from high school. It was by-the-seat-of-my-pants (or pantser) writing from beginning to end.

I went on to finish my first draft, reaching just over 97,000 words. After that, I admit it, I sort of coasted on the joy of having completed a novel. It took a couple of months after I typed that final word to get down to creating a revision plan. Problem was, I had no idea how to go about editing the manuscript. Where to start, what to do?

I started with some plot analysis, with tips from the Plot Whisperer. She has a handy month-long daily task plan for analyzing your plot in your NaNoWriMo novel. I made my way through the tasks, and now I have a lot of notes, a white board covered with plot diagrams and random note cards strewn about my desk and floor (just found another note card under the file cabinet - have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote it). It is true that I have a better idea of how my story can support the themes of my story as well as how it follows the universal story arc.

I have character sketches downloaded from various Web sites, but they can be pretty exhaustive/exhausting. Don’t even get me started on my world building sheet - it is dozens of pages long, and I’m not close to being finished. I thought I’d geek-out in filling in these forms, but the lists are making me listless. My hand starts to itch, and I have the vague notion I should gnaw my hand off at the wrist to escape.

So, now what? I have virtual reams of virtual paper filled with notes and plot outlines, what the frack do I do next? How do I incorporate all this fracking back story - what the hell do I do with facts such as: my character likes strawberry ice cream or her first pets were a family of talking, hairy spiders?

I talked this out with my significant other, last night. You wanna know his suggestion? It was (more or less) this: “Stop researching. Stop editing. Just start the rewriting, already.”

Gods and goddesses, I hate how he’s always right.

Which brings me to NaNoWriMo 2011. All that plotting that I did for my last NaNo novel, I was going to do that for this year's NaNo, but you know, BEFORE I wrote the story. I have "prewriting" done in the form of character sketches and notes, some plot outline bare bones, but I am loathe to do any more preparation.

I thought I would enjoy completing world building, plotting and outlining before I started to write, but I think I may hate it. I may be a pantser. JeffO thinks we need a new name - 'cause "pantser" is truly terrible. He couldn't be more right. The Character Therapist did a little survey to determine if our personalities precondition us to plotting or pantsing. She may be on to something...

What do you think? Plotting? Pantsing? Plot analysis is why the Editor or Critter was invented? Analysis is sexy? Plotting makes your head spin? Is advanced plotting and world building an absolute necessity for scifi/fantasy writers?


  1. One of my blogger friends ie Michael Offut (his blog is is a writer. His Sci Fi Book is going to be published in near future. May be you can check out his blog for pointers. Hi this is Munir over here at Focus. I am sure either way, if you have the passion for writing you will write something great. GOOD LUCK

  2. Thanks for your comment. I'll check out his blog - thanks for the suggestion.

  3. Thanks for the link, Jennifer.

    "Just start the rewriting, already" is such simple advice, and probably good advice, but it is tough to figure out where to start. Sometimes I think we bog ourselves down in all that extra stuff that we lose sight of what we should be doing (WRITING!).

    I have a ton of stuff 'on the cutting room floor' as they say in Hollywood. It all turned out to be unnecessary to the story, but it was necessary to *me*, as it helped me really learn who my characters are, and what's important to them.

    Sorry for the ramble, I feel a bit all over the place this morning.

  4. @Jeff - it IS such simple advice, on the surface. I think you've got it pegged - I'm feeling "bogged" (though, for a second I read "blogged").

    Good news is, I'm finally feeling my way out and I'm almost done with my new first chapter. Progress, at last!