Writerly Habits 4: Plotter Addicts and the Pantsers Who Love Them

Hi, my name is Amanda Rudd and I am an addict.  A Plotter Addict.  There, I said it.  I am addicted to character sheets, bullet-pointed lists, timelines, researching, drawing diagrams and maps, writing thousands of words of history and backstory and world-building descriptions (plenty of which never makes it into the actual story).  I do not, like some writers I’ve met, plot out every single scene for every single chapter (okay, SOMETIMES I do…), but I DO always have all major plot points mapped out (leaving it up to the first draft to figure out how all those plot points proceed, one to the next and so on).  I have all of my major characters as fully fleshed-out as I can manage before I begin.  I generally know how the story will end (though there are a few excepts to this rule).

This is not to say that I always end up FOLLOWING everything I planned out.  I believe that carving your plot plans in stone and never allowing yourself to color outside the lines is a very dangerous habit.  I imagine it would be stifling, leading to complete frustration and/or boredom with the story, and completely remove any sense of adventure or discovery in the writing itself.  And that sense of adventure and discovery is, for me, one of the main attractions of writing.  So, I plan and diagram and map-out to my heart’s content, and for the most part I stick to the major points as I write, but I never hand-cuff myself to the plan.

This has led to some very interesting circumstances.  For instance, as I mentioned above, I generally know how a story will end.  That is often one of the first things that comes to mind (and sometimes it’s the only thing that comes to mind, and I have no idea how I’m going to get to that ending).  However, I have a few stories where I know everything EXCEPT the ending.  This is generally because the direction of the plot and the natures of the characters lend themselves to several possibilities of how the story could end, all of which would be equally plausible but of different tones with different reactions from the reader.  And so all I can do is write the story and see where it leads me, hoping that something within the writing itself, in the way the characters evolve, or in the ways I do or do not change the plot, lead me to the RIGHT ending for the story.

I have also written myself into a number of corners, especially when I deviate from the plot plan I had originally devised.  This can be frustrating, but it can also be fun and even illuminating.  It is thrilling when I find ways of working myself out of the corner I’ve backed myself into, without having to change anything fundamental about what had led me to that point.  And it is also thrilling to see how these situations and my working-out of them, changes the plot from then on (or not).  However, there are still many times when I’ve simply had to go back and re-write whole scenes in order to insure that I simply don’t end up in that corner to begin with.

In the mean time, pantsers have simply jumped into the writing, and occasionally throw a pitying glance and shake of the head in my direction.  “Poor Amanda,” they say, “she’s spent days, maybe even weeks, planning all this stuff out, only to discover she won’t end up following more than half of it.  Why doesn’t she just quit the foreplay and get down to it?”  I’m sure they have a point (though pantsers are in just as much danger of getting stuck as I am), but I’m afraid it’s too late for me to change.

There is much more I could say about plotting vs. pantsing, but far wiser bloggers have written on the subject before, and I now defer you to them.

Chuck Wendig’s “Pantser versus Plotter: The Hoedown Throwdown Shakedown Takedown” is a fantastic article advocating for plotting in Chuck Wendig’s imminently “calm and balanced manner” (or rather, the opposite).

Cid Tyer discusses “The Novel Notebook” – a brainstorming/planning template created by Lynn Viehl.

And here, paranormal romance author Kait Nolan compiles a collection of resources/templates to help in the planning process.

You’ll notice that these links tend more toward the plotting side because plotters like to share the methods of planning that they have found to work for them, while pantsers just get to pantsing it.

So, writers, which are you?  Plotter or pantser?  Or perhaps a little of both?