Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pantser or Plotter?

By June Shaw

If you write books, short stories, or plays, do you prefer to plot them or write them by the seat of your pants?

There is no right or wrong answer.

Authors do both, often depending on their preference or the stage of writing in which they find themselves. The genre in which they write sometimes makes a difference, too.

In a recent lively discussion between many published and unpublished writers and a popular literary agent, I heard unpublished writers mainly say they wrote without having a plan of where they were going. Most of the published writers, however, said they were pantsers when they first started writing, but then discovered writing a basic plot first helped most.

Our agent in attendance said romance writers were often pantsers but that mystery authors, whom she mainly represents, create a plot first.

One of my major deficiencies is organizing -- almost anything. I wish I didn't have that problem. But one friend I taught with does the opposite -- even her pantry is alphabetized. I'd like to keep parts of me and parts of her and fit about halfway between us with my home. And my writing.

I am plotting more with my novels now than I did when I first started with novels. It's a little easier for me as time passes.

What do you prefer? Sitting at the computer and dashing out words without knowing where you're going? Or having a plan ahead of time and fitting your creative words in their proper places?

22 comments:

P.A.Brown said...

I've tried lurking and plotting but it never works. I will immediately veer off onto another track so I gave up planning several books ago. I will usually have an idea of the end, but even that can change in a heartbeat.

I love the unpredictability.

Judy Alter said...

I plot less now than I did when I first started writing novels. Back then I wrote historicals, and history handed me the plot. But now with mysteries, I have some idea what's going to happen but I keep finding other things and characters crop up. The last one I did the plot ended up revolving around something I hadn't even expected--and I had no idea who "done it" until close to the end--reqwuired some going back and laying no groundw ork.

June Shaw said...

P.A., I also love the unpredictability. I just find that I need a little direction for different turns and then I'm surprised between them.

June Shaw said...

Judy, I think we've all gotten to where something we didn't expect happened, and we had to go back and change some things. That's work but also a great surprise for us as writers.

Sheila W. Boneham said...

I begin with an idea of a plot, and have tried outlining, but inevitably the plot changes as I write and the outline is out. Now I keep a running list of chapters and what needs to happen in each, and just add, subtract, and rearrange as needed to keep some sense of order, always subject to change. The element of surprise is the fnu part of writing fiction!

Sheila W. Boneham said...

I begin with an idea of a plot, and have tried outlining, but inevitably the plot changes as I write and the outline is out. Now I keep a running list of chapters and what needs to happen in each, and just add, subtract, and rearrange as needed to keep some sense of order, always subject to change. The element of surprise is the fnu part of writing fiction!

Jean Henry Mead said...

Because I started my writing career as a news reporter, I wrote three nonfiction books before I attempted fiction. Nonfiction has to be outlined but I've never been able to successfully ouline a novel. My plots are character-driven and I just follow along for the ride. I've only had to backtrack once when I wrote myself into a corner.

Linda R said...

I can't begin writing a mystery without having a loose working synopsis. It changes as I go along, but the basic skeleton remains. I wish I could be more "off the cuff" but I guess it's not in my nature!

Rebecca York said...

I think this is partly a left brain/right brain issue. If you are left brained--logical--you tend to want a road map of where you are going. If you are right brained--intuitive--you tend to plunge in. But I think you need to use both parts of your brain. I want a road map but I've been stalled on the Decorah Security novel I'm writing. So I stopped and did something else. Then I came back to the novel and realized that the scene I'd been anticipating didn't really work, which was why I couldn't write it. I've thought about it and come up with something much better.
And yes, beginning writers tend to resist plotting first because it is a completely different skill from writing, and a massive amount of work at one time.

Jaden Terrell said...

Rebecca, that's an in interesting point about the left-brain/right-brain hemispheres. I tend to very "right-brained," which is why I NEED an outline. Without some sort of external organization, I'm lost--as anyone who ever saw the contents of my car or my office could attest, LOL. I could write forever without a plan, but it would be a mess; I have to know the course of the investigation before I can concentrate on the creative part, or what I end up with is mush.

Ricky Bush said...

Panster. I never know what will happen two pages from now. Almost like reading a book.

Ricky Bush said...

Panster. I never know what will happen two pages from now. Almost like reading a book.

June Shaw said...

Sheila, great ideas! I like what you do to make your plots work. Might try it.

June Shaw said...

Jean, love the way you "just follow along for the ride." Funny.

June Shaw said...

Linda,

Yes, lots of mystery writers tend to write that way.

June Shaw said...

Thanks for your comments, Rebecca. I'm sure lots of decisions come because of whether we use more of the right or left side of our brains.

I love dolphins, too. We have lots down here in La.

June Shaw said...

Jaden and Ricky,

Funny. I guess I figured most men were pretty well organized. Maybe not, huh?

Leighton Gage said...

Hi June,

A fascinating topic, this one.
For those whom it interests as much as me, and have the patience, Tim Hallinan interviewed a number of writers, at length, about the subject.
All the posts are in the "writing" part of his blog, THE BLOG CABIN, but they're not threaded together. So one can only find them by laborious scrolling down.
Speaking of Tim, has everyone noticed that he's giving away a free Kindle copy of THE BONE POLISHER this weekend on Amazon?
Here's a link to the page:

http://amzn.to/A6K9kj

Timothy Hallinan said...

Thanks for this post and all the great comments, and thanks to Leighton for linking to the long thread of writer replies to this question on my blog.

In my years of blogging, mostly about writing, I don't know of a subject that engages writers much more intensely. In fact, when I publish my WRITING TO FINISH ebook, I'll be using some of those writers' pieces verbatim in the book in a special appendix.

Always a fascinating topic.

Jaden Terrell said...

I love Tim's books. He's one of my favorite writers. If you haven't read him, THE BONE POLISHER would be a fine start, I'm sure.

June, I don't know about most men, but I've known as many or more men as women who are pansters. Tony Hillerman always said he was a total panster--and his plots always seemed well organized. Maybe pansters are just more able to keep their intricate plots clear in their heads.

I'm a woman writing a hardboiled PI series about a man--hence, the unisex name.

Jaden Terrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca York said...

Most men organized? You don't want to see my husband's office. He could be one of the Colyier brothers.