Why I Converted From a Pantser into a Plotter

I think most people in the writing blogosphere know what a pantser and plotter are by now, but just in case you don’t, here’s a quick definition:

A “pantser” is someone who writes based on their intuition, or “flying by the seat of their pants.”

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Actual footage of me as a pantser

A “plotter,” however, well….plots.

That isn’t to say pantsers don’t have a picture in their head of where the story is going, they just trust more in their innate ability to navigate the story.

I used to be one such person.

It was fun.

You discover this brave new world with characters and settings, world-building and plot. Every action is unpredictable, every environment as new to you as the characters. It’s basically like the universe is telling the story to you and it’s up to you to transcribe it for others to read.

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The winds pick up and the story accelerates faster and faster until you look at the clock and discover it’s nearly 11 p.m.

You reluctantly carry yourself to bed, head buzzing impatiently for the new day to begin so you can start the whole process over.

The next day comes and you sit before your desk, ready to feel the metaphorical winds in your hair yet again, but then…..

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You get stuck.

You have no idea how your MC is going to vanquish their enemy. The momentum of the story is lost. Worse than that, you know the beginning and tiny fraction of the climax but absolutely nothing in between.

You wrack your brain for a solution, but nothing comes. You doubt the validity of your own talents. Eventually, you either convince yourself the story was never worth telling in the first place, or you form the delusion you’re just “taking a break” from this story until something comes to you.

Your computer becomes a graveyard of incomplete projects.

This was my story.

It wasn’t as though I’d never tried to be a plotter. It just seemed to me as though I wasn’t cut out for it. The muse didn’t like restrictions, you know?

I didn’t need Siri to tell me to turn left at the stop sign. My heart would lead the way!

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…….Except it didn’t.

Or it only lead me to a certain point and then ditched me.

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My muse after I hit a plothole

I spent so many nights marinating on my affliction. I was a failed pantser and a failed plotter. So what was I to do?

After a long while, I found myself once again bitten by the writing bug. Yet again, I tried playing it by ear only to fall flat on my face for what felt like the 550th consecutive time.

And so I decided I would give plotting one more try……

Holy shit was that a good idea. 

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Turns out I was doing the whole thing wrong.

Rather than slowly building up to a story, planning out the characters and their arcs, I tried boiling my entire story down to a couple of sentences jotted on notebook paper. Mostly because–while I acknowledged the benefits of plotting– I simply didn’t want to do it. I was aching with anticipation to get started. I wanted to craft sentences not make a map.

Maps are boring.

Writing is fun.

What I didn’t realize is it didn’t have to be that way.

Instead of relegating my entire novel to 500 word essay, I made an outline for each. I broke them down based on what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted the characters to think and feel, and how it impacted the plot.

I was able to create cultures and histories as well as characters and plots.

I anticipated plot-holes before they happened.

I could re-work and experiment with story elements without having to completely start over from scratch because I hadn’t actually begun the writing stage yet.

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Most importantly, I saved myself weeks, months, maybe even years of turmoil trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit together.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s still hard work and I do get stuck occasionally. However, it takes a lot less time to re-write a plot-map than it does to completely restructure your story over again because you decided to go another direction.

If being a panster has been working for you and you’ve had no issue completing projects, God bless you, you beautiful freak of nature.

For the rest of you that have found yourself frustrated and directionless, I whole-heartedly recommend you give plotting a serous looking into.

It’s not nearly as boring or regimental as it sounds.

I’ve actually found it more enjoyable than flying by the seat of my pants because I actually have confidence that my story is going in the direction it needs to go.

If it worked for someone like me, I’m willing to bet it will work for many of you.

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Happy Writing!

 

 

A Writer’s Dilemma: The Problem With Conflict

It’s pretty obvious that one of the central components to a story is the conflict.

It doesn’t matter what the conflict is: fighting the Dark Lord, winning the beef cake, or keeping the world from losing its Twinkies.

There just has to be a problem for the protagonist to solve.

I am good at coming up with conflict.

My characters suffer horribly at my hands.

The problem with getting your characters into terrible situations, however, is that, eventually, you have to get them out.

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Sure, it’s easy to say the character needs to overthrow a corrupt government and ward off an alien incursion, but how would they go about doing that? Where would they even begin? Especially when these people have no military training or exemplary fighting skills?

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I expect them to have a clue what to do when even I wouldn’t know how to act in these situations.

There they are, strapped to a chair with a bomb that’s set to go off at any moment. They rock their chair from side to side desperately before turning to me in a last-ditch effort to save themselves.

“Writer!” they scream, “what do I do?!”

Me:

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Eh, I’ll get back to you when the answer comes to me during a 6 a.m. shower. You can wait that long, can’t you?

Them:

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Me:

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On the bright side, maybe if the solution is a surprise to me it’ll be a surprise to the reader as well. Or perhaps I’m just playing one long game of mental hide-and-seek with myself. Only time will tell.

Abandon Manuscript!: The Diary of a Quitter

I’m notorious for jumping ship whenever a story becomes complicated. Friends ask me frequently how a story is going and my blood goes cold.

Oh,” I think, “just imagine a sinking boat that suddenly catches fire only to be extinguished by a humpback whale, leaping from the water and crushing it into splinters with its girth. That’s how the story is going.”

I frequently write myself into corners.

I create plots that are too complex to unravel.

I design characters that don’t do what I want them to do.

Then there’s the constant feeling of being adrift at sea, wondering “now what?”

Creating an outline works for about a day. Then, my brain throws something else into the mix that creates a disastrous domino effect.

I reread the manuscript for a novel I’ve been working on since January and made the decision to abandon it. I consider this an accomplishment since I deserted it after completing the first draft in its entirety rather than rewriting a specific chapter ad nauseam as is my custom.

I decided to begin again on a manuscript I discarded a year previously. I think the premise is still solid and the characters, once fleshed out, will be interesting and memorable. It will require quite a bit of plotting and a great deal of motivation.

Oftentimes I lack the latter because I lack the former.

I have confidence in the story. Maybe I just need more confidence in my abilities.

If I keep a steady course, perhaps this will be the one that makes it into port.