Wednesday, April 11, 2007

On Writing ~ Plotter or Pantser

There's no doubt about it, I'm a plotter.
The new short story I'm working on, Elements of Attraction (don't get too attached -- it'll probably change) had to be completely mapped out before I could write a word. Well, that's not exactly true...
I wrote about 1000 words before I scrapped it and went back the drawing board. Literally.

I now have a 3,000 word detailed outline for a 13,ooo-ish word piece and I'm tickled beyond pink. With the chaps laid out in front of me, I can see where and how to add a dose of sexual tension, appropriate foreshadowing, a hint of spooky things-to-come, and (this is important according to author Molly O'Keefe in her recent TRW workshop) leave questions in the readers mind at crucial points to make them want to keep reading. I know it seems obvious, but I never thought about it in those terms before... the dropping of proverbial breadcrumbs.

I even worked out an actual timeline complete with names of ancestors, birth and death dates. (I've done this before, but not nearly in as much detail or thought, because of impatience to just get on with the story!) Most of these details won't even be mentioned in the actual story, but it helps me wrap my head around the characters because events from 100 years ago effect their actions so it was important for me to commit it all to ink.

This morning I sat down to work on chapter one (I'll go back and work on the trashed prologue later) and managed to squeeze out 1,500 words. This is good for me (I'm no Christine!!) as I usually struggle to push out 500 words in a session. And normally, I write by scene, not by chapter. I don't think I've started at the beginning before!
Now, if only I could come up with a good ending. That's always a challenging bit.

What works for you?


Leah Braemel said...

I even worked out an actual timeline complete with names of ancestors, birth and death dates.

I always do that before I write a single word of the story - I need it to get into who my characters are. I often have charts of who their ancestors are going back four or five generations. I figure out where they are in the birth order, names, nick names, the whole shebang. It lets me get into their heads to find out what conflicts they have and why they act the way they do. But I'm told I should let that go and just write.

As for plotting - I'm a bit pantser and a bit plotter. I will usually have several pages of notes about where I want my story to go, but sometimes my characters will say 'Hey, over here, this way is better.' Sometimes they're right. Sometimes they're not.

Wylie Kinson said...

Leah -- that method definately works better for me in the long run. I just feel more organized (this must be why I can't write if my desk is messy!)
But you're right, you can easily get caught up in all the minutea (did I spell that correctly) and never quite get around to writing the story!

Anonymous said...

What Leah said about being parts pantser and part plotter. I do quite a bit of pre-writing: getting to know my characters, mapping out their backstory, their history, significant events in their life that have formed them as people, and when I feel ready, I begin to write their story. I usually have an idea of where the story will go, but as Leah said about her process, sometimes my characters yell at me, no, not that way, this way!

And yup, sometimes I have false starts -- I'll begin what I think is the story only to realize it isn't the story the characters are wanting to tell at all, so then I say, okeydokey, whatever you say, and begin a different one (though possibly with some hair-pulling and creative use of four-letter words).

Good luck with "The Elements of Attraction!" :-D

Christine said...

I'm a bit of a hybrid. If I have a clear picture of the story in my head I don't need to plot. However, that rarely happens. I've been plotting more and more. Usually a brief chapter outline to keep me moving through the rough sections. I don't always stick to what I've plotted, but it does help.

Christine said...

And what do you mean you're no Christine?? It's not like I'm crazy...I just type really fast. ;)

Wylie Kinson said...

Christine - that was a compliment of the most envious kind!!

Nicholas said...

You see, this is why I still feel like a fraud who sooner or later will be unmasked. I didn't really plot my first novel at all; I just made it up as I went along. I'm writing my novel in progress pretty much the same way -- I know what the ending is going to be, but I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to get there yet.

I really admire people who can map out plots and subplots and set up convoluted story lines before they even begin writing a word. My hat is off to you.

Wylie Kinson said...

Now see -- this is a typical case of grass being greener.
Nicholas, a fraud who talks about 'his first novel' in past tense can't be a fraud, for he has already written it *LOL*
I, the plotter, on the otherhand, have lovely outlines for no less than 3 novels but haven't been able to complete any more than 3 or 4 shorts/novellas!
Now whose the fraud :)

Amy Ruttan said...

I'm like Christine, in that I know where the desitnation is, I know the rest stops but I don't write it don't. I don't do character sketches or anything and in that way I am a panster. It works for me some days some days not. Lately, for Journey I have been coming up with scenes and I have been writing out random scenes all over the place, now I just have to piece it together.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I guess I'm a pantster. I sit and write and figure out the story and then go back and make an outline, see what I've got, and nip and tuck from there until I've got less of a Frankenstein and more of a swan. (whoa! Mixed metaphor alert!)