Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pantser or Plotter: Do We Have to Choose?



            This week, the meeting of the Austin chapter of the Romance Writers of America had a talented guest speaker: Author Kathleen Baldwin. Her presentation, “The Secret Life of Pantsers,” rocked.

            Ms. Baldwin talked about the myths involving pantsers and plotters. For instance, it’s natural to think a character-driven author is a pantser and a plot-driven author is a plotter. However, according to what she told us, a pantser can be plot-driven, just as a plotter can be character-driven. The pantser is the brave adventurer and the plotter, the brilliant planner. The main difference is that the pantser will take failure over predictability, always needing a challenge and not feeling compelled to tell a story he or she already knows intimately. Meanwhile, a plotter— the master of his or her world, and a planner—values success over risky adventures. Ms. Baldwin also gave us examples on how the tendencies to become a pantser or a plotter are deeply seated in our brains.

            Our speaker administered a quiz to help each one of us find out if we are a plotter or a pantser. My result was that I present characteristics from both sides, although I’m leaning more toward pantser. I think it’s true. I can’t go completely pantser on a story, and my fingers itch to touch the keyboard way before I figure everything out.

            I guess I’m in the middle. I let the characters speak to me, yes, but I like to have the main turning points and black moment roughly sketched before I start writing. I love how I’m slowly but finally learning my own writing process. I usually start with an idea, then play with it for a couple of weeks (without taking notes). Then I write it down, and start writing my novel. I usually send my first chapter to my CP, who will tell me honestly if it’s a horrible idea or not. Then, if she doesn’t think it’s a horrendous idea, I pursue it and write a dirty draft until the seventh or eighth chapter. Then I go back and start polishing. Then I pick up on the rest of the manuscript. And edit. Again. And again. Phew. I’m sure there are easier ways out there, but I have to get that far to get to know my characters better. And usually by chapter seven I’m itching to go back and start editing (and make changes based on the other things that happened). I guess the pantser spends more time editing, and the plotter plotting?

            Anyway. Very interesting stuff.

            How about you? Are you a pantser, a plotter or a combination of the two? What is your process of writing?


  1. Definitely a combo - the story I've sold was completely on the fly, I had no idea what would happen, only where it all started. The one I'm in the middle of was the same, until I got half way and then I had to figure out how it all ended. Funnily enough, both started out with the intention of being 15k word stories and ended up in the 40's. I also have 2 stories completely plotted but am now putting some distance between me and them so I come at them feeling fresh, if that makes sense? Like I said, definitely a bit of both LOL

    1. I'm so glad you've expanded your stories. :) The more, the merrier! I can't write a 15k novella. I mean, I've tried, but it's just so hard to pack the conflicts within the word limit. The right conflicts, too. :P