I’ve learned a couple new terms about what kind of writer a person can be: pantser and plotter. It’s pretty self-explanatory. A pantser “flies by the seat of their pants” and just starts writing without necessarily knowing what’s going to happen next. A plotter plots out the book ahead of time before writing.
There’s a lot of grey area between plotter and pantser, and one method is not inherently better than the other. I tend to be a pantser when I write. Sometimes I pants my way to the finish line, and other times I figure out where the book is going and plot the remainder of the book. For the majority of my books, I usually have at least two of these elements in mind before I start writing: a beginning, a premise, and a main character. Recently I was revisiting an old MG fantasy book I started, and I hated all of it but the main character. I rewrote the book leaving nothing the same except for her, and it’s a much better story! Pantsing my way through writing a novel has worked well for me, but with this new project I’m tinkering with, I’m changing that.
A month ago or more, I had a small idea, and five ways I wanted to start a book. I had my main character, but there were so many angles I wanted to use to give this book a funny/sassy/clever punch in that first paragraph I couldn’t figure out where to start or what tone I wanted to use. So I wrote down all my beginnings, and then put it away for a while to let my subconscious work it out.What ended up happening was that I formed the plot of the book before officially starting to write.
This is a rare treat for me! For the first time that I can recall, I have the whole book plotted and organized before I start writing. It’s both strange and satisfying. I’ve got the order of my big plot points, good one-liners, and some dialog worked out, and it all fits within the outline I created for myself. (So far that is, new plot elements have a way of showing up whether I want them to or not.)
The ironic downside for me in plotting is that I want to keep fussing with the outline instead of just writing the darn story. I like the detail oriented work, and it’s fun coming up with short bits of dialog or a subplot that keeps the story moving. Actually sitting down and writing the book now feels like a chore! I think it’s partly because the mystery is gone. I know what’s going to happen to my characters instead of writing and thinking of things on the fly. It’s nice to have an outline so I don’t have to worry, but for me it’s taking away a bit of the magic where my characters direct me instead of the other way around.
I’m sure once I suck it up and start writing the magic will return. It’s nice having a new way to think through a book, and I’m hoping with a real-live outline, my first draft will be at least a little more coherent than usual!
Pantsers, Plotters, and everyone in between: how do you get yourself from start to finish?