February 22, 2011

Writers: Do you Plot or Wing it?

Plotter or Pantser. I'm sure many of you have heard the terms before. But what does it mean?

Plotter: This is a person who outlines their story from beginning to end. Sometimes chapter by chapter, other times plotting out a timeline or writing a synopsis.
Panters: This is a person who writes and lets the "muse" tell them where to go next.

I would love to sit here and talk about plotting a novel, how to write a killer outline, and all the great technical aspects to pre-plotting a novel.

I can't.

I'm a pantser.

For NANOWRIMO a few years back, I actually wrote an outline. Okay, it wasn't a real outline, it was a Jenn outline of notes and plot points and character personalities & attributes, but it was the most pre-planning I've done with any book.

I never finished it.

I still go back and read it sometimes. Parts of it are great, others, not so much. I lost interest right when it was getting good and heading into the final climax. I have no idea why I lost interest, but I have a feeling it had to do with the pre-destined ending and forcing the book and characters to make it there.

Being a pantser doesn't mean I don't have an idea where I want to story to go, in fact, 90% of the time I know the beginning, middle, and end. I just don't know how the characters will get there. For me, that is the best part about writing.

I have the characters in my head, their look, personality, quirks and faults. I know the world they live in. I know the basic skeleton of the plot. I know how I want it to end. Mostly.

I give my characters a wide berth when writing, because even though I am the author, it's not my story. I don't like influencing my characters, I'd rather they drive the story forward.

I'll use my latest novella Wild & Wicked as an example.

When the idea first popped into my head, all I knew was this: Girl working at strip club was looking for something. Guy who visits the strip club (for some reason) ends up helping the girl. And the girl was going to have to give the guy a lap dance before the end of her first night working.

From here, I needed characters.

Veronica's name came to me easily. I'd been watching Veronica Mars for a while and loved the name. Only one character called her Roni, a nickname, to be honest, I never really associated with Veronica before because I don't know anyone personally with that name. I know right! How weird. But that was her name. I didn't want her to look or act like Kristen Bell's character from VM, so I made sure she didn't. Good, I have a character!

Mason's name came from the new Call of Duty game my brother was playing. It was the character's last name, and I liked it. So I used it as his first name and gave him a cool last name. I decided he was a former detective and that he went to the strip club to keep an eye on the owner--so he wasn't really interested in the strippers. I also knew that I wanted him to look similar to Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Yum.

Awesome! I have my characters. I knew the setting. So, I started writing.

As I wrote the novella, Mason's back story quickly filled my brain. I didn't know anything about Veronica, but that was okay, because I always have a mysterious/suspenseful vibe in everything I write, so it didn't concern me. When her back story was ready to come out, I'd be ready too.

I wasn't nervous when I neared the moment where she told Mason her little secret. To be honest, I was as surprised as Mason when she told him. One line filled in all the blanks!

When the second big reveal came from Veronica, I knew I had to pepper in some minor details throughout the story so that it seemed like I knew who she was from the beginning, without giving it away to the reader a head of time.

Once I knew Veronica's back story, it opened up a whole new side of her that I never had in my head, making her even more interesting than before. Total score! It also opened up a secondary plot that I turned into a sequel!

For this particular story, I had no notes, no written description, no idea where the story was even taking place, except for the club. Everything was in my head and it just flowed.

With my other, bigger projects, I normally write notes and descriptions, plot points, and other minor connecting details to make sure I stay on track with where I'd like the story to go. Of course it doesn't always happen as planned because we all know characters tend to do what they want, but having those notes and comments helps me stay focused on the plot portion.

I've gotten better at this pantser stuff the last few years. I chalk it up to my Star Trek role playing game. I've been playing this game for a while, with a group of creative people who keep me on my toes every single week. I learned that I have a knack for taking a plot from several months ago and tying it into something we're doing in the present, which in turn creates an even bigger plot with other side plots emerging in the background. I love it! It's one of the reason I still play because I never know what's going to happen, what the other people are going to do, and I love finding a way to connect everything together. At times, the people I play with ask if I planned to connect Plot A with Plot X and when I say no, they rarely believe me!

When I first started playing the ST game, I was a total plotter. I had things pre-written, I knew what everyone had to do, how they had to do it, and made sure they did it, even if they didn't want to. Those games were fun, but not as much fun as giving people free range with their own characters. Now, I never plot our games. Sometimes I'll set up a scenario and just go with it. Makes it much more interesting!

I've learned to do that with my novel characters too and I couldn't be happier. I love the way I write because it tends to surprise me, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but isn't that the life? You never know what will happen, so your characters shouldn't either. Unless they're psychic, but that's another blog post...

How about you? Plotter or Pantser or a little bit of both?
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