Saturday, November 17, 2007

Plotter, Pantser or Planner?

If you're a writer, you've undoubtedly been asked, "Are you a plotter or a pantser?" And if you're new to the profession, you may have scrunched up your brain in search of a definition--pantser?

You soon learn about two approaches to writing: plotting or flying by the seat of your pants. Hence, pantser. I'm a pantser. I get an idea and run with it, never giving thought to an outline, working synopsis, or character profiles. And I have gleefully embraced the title since I first set my fingers to a keyboard and wrote my very first line.

Many of my writer friends are plotters. I admire them for their ability to write out detailed character profiles, develop a story outline, create a detailed synopsis and display all of these as handy references for keeping their story on track. I am in awe of the cork boards filled with index cards and sticky notes or the dry erase boards proudly displaying a scene-by-scene sketch of the book. I admire them in the same way I admire Michelle Kwan. The beauty and grace of her skating is the result of talent coupled with intense discipline.

There's my problem. I lack discipline. I'd rather write an entire novel, than develop a detailed outline and synopsis of my story. But, lately, I've realized I lose time because I don't have a road map to follow. I write much the way I travel--"Oh, that looks like an interesting road. Let's see where it'll take us." I get from start to finish, but I don't always get there efficiently.

I've decided to create a new writing approach for myself: Planner. I'm sure I've not stumbled upon some grand revelation, and that many of you already plan your work without doing detailed plotting. But, it's a new approach for me. It will, I'm sure, test my discipline and my patience.

I recently drove from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Camden, Maine. I don't have a GPS system (in my car or in my head--lol), so I mapped out the trip and printed out the directions. Then my travel companion and I altered those along the way, depending upon where we wanted to stop and take in scenery. I know I have the ability to do this. I can plan, and I can follow the plan.

How does a planner differ from a plotter and a pantser? Well, here's my interpretation. As a planner, I'll write a brief story summary--where does it start? where does it end? what key turn of events has to happen in the middle?

Of course, my new approach calls for different supplies. I purchased a pack of 3x5 index cards and, as luck would have it, Walgreens also had little plastic index card cases--with dividers. (I'm an office supply junkie! I drool while browsing at Office Depot.) On these cards, I will write out character descriptions, settings, and key scenes. I can carry this handy little case with me and, when a scathingly brilliant idea comes to mind, I'll be able to jot it down. (Oops. Note to self: buy a pen.)

I'll see how this works so that, the next time I need to remember my character's hair or eye color, or her profession, or her mother's name (well, you get the idea), I won't have to skim through the whole darned manuscript to find it.

I know. I risk losing my true pantser status. So, what are the writing police going to do? Pants me?

Believe it or not, there's a point to this blog. And if I'd outlined it first, I'd have been there by now.

My point: There's more than one way to get to Camden from Pittsburgh. There's more than one way to develop a cast of characters, give them each a unique voice and physical features and history, create a story line, and take your reader on a wonderful journey through struggle, love, mystery, suspense, fantasy or humor.

As writers, we each have to find our own voice. We also have to find our own style, the approach to writing that frees us to fly. Find what works best for you, what comes naturally, and go with it. Fill your tool box only with the tools that will help you. If you're just not a plumber, don't pack a pipe wrench. It'll just weigh you down.

Happy writing.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm a total pantser. No doubt about it. I come up with a situation (which I hope will be compelling), take characters who I hope will be fascinating and let the characters drive the plot. I'm along for the ride.