Friday, August 12, 2022

Thoughts from a Reluctant (Possible) Plotter

Hello, my name is Sarah, and I no longer know what I am . . . at least when it comes to the planning vs. pantsing debate. For those who haven't heard these terms before, they refer to how one approaches the process of writing a story. A planner is usually characterized as putting in a lot of time preparing before writing a word in the actual manuscript; they'll make outlines (sometimes extraordinarily detailed ones), fill out character profiles, do ALL the worldbuilding, and more. A pantser, or seat-of-the-pants writer, generally prefers some variation on winging it, or figuring it out as they go along. In between are the plantsers, those who do some combination of the two, which is the category I usually put myself. However, for some of my more recent novels, I've found myself doing more and more actual planning, specifically outlining, not necessarily because it's my natural inclination, but because it seems necessary for the stories I'm writing. So, because of that shift — and because I recently read a rather interesting planning vs. pantsing article from the lovely folks at Tor Publishing that got me thinking about the topic — I'm going to take today to share some thoughts on planning, pantsing, and the space in between.

Thoughts from a Reluctant (Possible) Plotter

(Because this is still a thing people talk about, right?)

  1. Even at my most pantser-ish, I don't write without some kind of plan. Not anymore, at least. I generally do want at least a rough idea of where I'm starting, where I'm going, and where I might pause along the way. I might not always write it down — for short stories, I rarely do any planning outside my head — but I can't sit down with a concept and a first chapter and go for it. Well, I could. But I probably wouldn't — if nothing else, because if all I have a concept and a starting point, I probably got the idea yesterday, and all the ideas I've been chewing on for months or years take precedence.
  2. More planning means less time stuck . . . sometimes. You would think that the more detailed the outline, the more you build your characters and the world, the more likely it is that the actual writing would go smoothly. But for myself, there tends to be a point at which "time spent planning" and "time spent stuck" cease to have any kind of correlation. I actually have an idea of why this is . . .
  3. It's easier to diagnose — and fix — story problems during writing than outlining. I've been dealing with this recently, and it's the reason why I just had to start BDPI#4 over from the outline. I had a solid outline with, for me, quite a bit of detail. I'd put a good bit of thought into the outline. But it wasn't until I actually started writing that I started to realize that my story in its current form had some problems. I think this is often why I like working with looser outlines; they give me more space to fix issues without throwing everything out of whack.
  4. The more detailed the outline, the more likely it is I'll have to redo the outline. Ok, I don't have a ton of data points for this, and I know that there are stories I've written with very loose outlines that I ended up having to rewrite the story itself from more or less the ground up. But I can say with reasonable confidence that I've only rewritten two outlines (Gilded in Ice and BDPI#4), and both were pretty detailed. I can also say with considerable confidence that the more detailed the original outline, the more annoyed I'll be about going back to the drawing board.
  5. My last point actually comes half from that Tor article I referenced earlier (which you should read, by the way): planning and pantsing really are just two different ways of doing the same thing (feeling out a story and a world), and which one is preferable may depend on story as much as author. The reason I'm planning more might be that I'm getting more comfortable with outlines and that I have to write my books faster . . . but it's also because I'm writing different types of stories. Between Two Worlds, which had a very loose outline, was a fantasy adventure that was primarily character-driven. It needed to be flexible enough to accommodate moments when the cast did something unexpected. My Bastian Dennel books, on the other hand, are very plot-centric. Characters need to be in the right places at the right times; they need to discover the right clues in the right order. That demands a more detailed outline, if only so you can make sure you know what they need to find and where they need to be before you point your characters in its direction. So, even if I'm currently writing a lot of detailed outlines, there's no guarantee that'll always be the case — it'll depend on what stories I'm telling.

What are your thoughts on plotting, planning, and plantsing? Do you notice a difference in what kind of outlines you make for different types of stories? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

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