Plotter VS. Pantster
“Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground . . . Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered, pre-existing world.” -S. King
Lately, I’ve been reminded of two conflicting ideas in the craft of writing. I thought I’d take a moment to address this because I’ve struggled with the decision of which fits me best and thought I would share my journey between the two.
First, there is no right way to write a novel or any form of literature. There are techniques that help form reader-friendly stories but are never necessary. So please, do what feels best for you. It is the right choice.
You may have heard these terms.
Plotter– a writer who forms layouts to dictate every scene.
Pantster– A writer who sets the scene but allows the characters to drive the story without author interference.
When I first began writing, I was a pure plotter. I couldn’t write without knowing where I was going, otherwise, I was left with incoherent, half-sentence ramblings. My characters were dull and the story was monotonous.
The plotting was fun for me. I enjoyed deconstructing my favorite novels to find the pacing, the character development, the similarities and differences between genres. (Doesn’t sound fun? I may be crazy. If that is true you should stop reading and go on about your lives.)
I made charts and notecards. I wrote an entire manuscript in this form. Each scene was carefully executed to lead into the next and build the plot.
I never intended for the manuscript to be shared with anyone, it was a way of introduction into my writing life. I did want to go back to the beginning and read through. Oh, goodness. The prose, of course, was cringe worthy. The story itself wasn’t half bad. But what I noticed most was how bland the entire read was. My characters felt stiff like they were mannequins standing still in a bustling shopping mall. The story happened around them, and although they were reactionary, it didn’t feel like their own decisions. I could see where I pushed and prodded them, manipulating the whole of the story.
I abandoned plotting right then.
I wiped the slate clean and told myself that I needed to give the characters the leeway to tell their own story, not the other way around.
An idea would plant in my head and I’d nestle myself into my writer’s nook and let my fingers click away at the keyboard, nurturing the notion of letting the character lead.
At first, this proved the better choice over plotting. I had a sense of who my character was and what they wanted to say. However, what they wanted to say did not always add up to a noteworthy plot.
Ramblings, all of it!
I would lose track of what the story was even about. I have more deserted stories from when I tried to pants my way through than I’d like to admit.
Frustration was at a high. I told myself things like ‘you are not cut out for this. You’re a reader, not a writer. It’s just not meant to be.’ My muse steered me toward a graveyard where she bid me lay her to rest.
I had not put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard in months. Then, I saw Stephen King’s quote. The one featured at the top of this post. (Scroll up if you missed it. It’s worth reading!) And click *eyes brighten as the lightbulb turns on*.
I was focused on the best approach for me. Plotting or pantsing. But here, in S. King’s quote, I found the answer. My story is here *taps temple* Every idea is a discovery, a small piece of a whole.
I can take my time and be amazed at what I may unearth. I don’t need to know every detail of its hidden features. That is part of the fun of writing. BUT, I do need tools to help dust away the dirt and rock to expose my creation.
Through this one quote, I found the balance I needed to go forward. Plotting is a necessity for me. I need to see the big picture, to know that there is a prize worth digging for. Pantsing is no less a necessity. The excitement as I discover how each joint of the story is connected leaps from me and into my words.
This is my method. Equal parts of plotting and pantsing have revealed more than a few gems for me to admire. There are always improvements that can be made, but when you are comfortable with your time spent writing you are on the right track to an undiscovered world of bliss.
I hope some of you creatives can relate. How do you write? Plot? Pants? Both? I’d love to know your thoughts and your path to discovering what works best for you. Leave a comment below.