To Plot or Not to Plot

If you’re involved in the writing world to any extent, I’m sure you’ve heard the question ‘Are you a panster or a plotter?’. I am without a doubt a plotter. I’m more certain of that now then ever. I used to think I sat somewhere in the center. I’d come up with a rough idea and try and work my way through. Inevitably I’d stall and waste vast amounts of time rewriting and changing what I’d already written in the hopes of finding the story path again. However, in recent stories, I’ve been working out more detailed story outlines which has made the writing of the story so much smoother. I need the road map, I need to pre-plan each step of the journey my characters go on. Having that guide keeps me from spinning my wheels. In a recent post I wrote how I am working on a story with a partner. The good news is we just finished the story. In fact, we’re just about to send it out to beta readers before we start submitting it. I firmly believe that without a solid outline we’d still be muddling through. Yes, we varied as the story progressed, but with two people writing we didn’t have the luxury of pantsing our way through. We each needed to be able to pick up where the other left off and know where to go next. It really streamed lined the process and in the end gave us a great bare bones synopsis.
I realize, however, that within each of these categories of writers I know there are degrees. Some people get an idea and reveal in the thrill of discovery as they write. Some create a loose series of plot points and then meander their way along. Others plot the story to within an inch of it’s life. They use collages, story boards, colored note cards, etc.

So I ask, are you a plotter? If so, to what techniques do you use to plot. If you don’t plot what is your method of writing?

5 responses to “To Plot or Not to Plot

  1. Total Pantser. I tried plotting once all the way through and never even finished the manuscript. With my latest I took some notes and such, but I love flying by the seat of my pants and letting the characters take over when they feel the need! 🙂

  2. Even with a rough plot outline, there are many surprises that pop up in a book. The more I write, the more I plot ahead. I never start a story without knowing the four basics, as outlined by Sid Field’s screenplay book. The inciting incident, the first turning point, the climax and the resolution. Sometimes I figure out the middle as I go.

    Partner writing has forced me to be more disciplined with my plotting, definitely a good thing for future books.

  3. I sometimes wish I could do that, Jenn. Just give the characters free reign to do as they please. I need a bit more structure to get to The End.

    The four basics are definitely a given as a starting point. But yes, partner writing required having a really tight outline. As I said when one stopped we needed to have the other be able to pick up and run with it. It’s been fun though.

  4. I started out as a pantser, despite otherwise being a very organized and logic-loving person. It worked sometimes, and other times I couldn’t finish the book because I had no idea where to go. I also had no knowledge of story structure back then, and my stories only ended up with turning points out of pure luck.

    My current MS is the first one I’ve written with an outline (major plot points, plus a few ideas of important scenes in between). There’s still plenty of room to let the story run free, but with a destination in mind. The outline changes, too, but when I get stuck and don’t know what to write next, the outline has been a lifesaver. Especially during NaNoWriMo.

  5. I know that feeling, Gwen of having no clue where to go next and stalling out. When I get backed into a corner or can’t figure out what’s next I can usually turn to my outline and it helps set me back on the road. It’s a life and time saver for me and has become an important part of my process. I’ve accepted the fact that I need structure to be productive.

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