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Pantser or Plotter?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Dark Huntress, Jan 2, 2017.

  1. Dark Huntress

    Dark Huntress Scribe

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    I must have 20 books on outlining novels and, although I have tried and tried, they just aren't for me. I prefer to just write and see where the story goes. Although I do research to make sure my story details are correct and I will admit to doing some maps when necessary.

    Which is your preference? Pantser or Plotter.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2017
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  2. Mytherea

    Mytherea Minstrel

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    Both? Is that an option? Okay, I know it's an option, but if I were to pick one or the other, I lean a little more toward outlining, but my outlines don't quite look like traditional outlines. They're more like a stream-of-consciousness journal I do alongside whatever I'm writing. Since I often write stuff with a mystery component, it helps to work out ahead of time who did what and when so I don't have to do a lot of rearranging of events later, but my outlines are fluid and change as I go along, especially as I discover things about the characters and setting and such. Sometimes, I thumbnail a scene, particularly if it's giving me trouble and I've scrapped and rewritten it too many times or I need it to pull a lot of weight in the story in a confined space, so sometimes it helps to organize it on paper first. Then again, I've also written scenes with no planning and only a vague idea where they're going and just let the story take me where it takes me. This is for long-form stuff, though (with a few exceptions). I've written short fiction entirely organically with no clue where it was going almost as frequently as I've outlined them. So it kind of depends on the project, I suppose.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2017
  3. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I outline nothing, ever, when I did, it did me zero good... that said I am not a pantser.

    With screenplays I learned the value of index cards, and I could see that working for short novels, but for my current project, where the first book will be 150k words, there's just no damned way I'm going to know all the details.

    So, what I would call myself is a waypoint writer. I know where I'm going, I know where I'm starting, and I know (or have a good idea) of the key plotpoints in between. For me, with a large project, this road is just too twisting and winding with so many turns that might take me to the same place to possibly be hardcore about outlining the journey. But on the other hand, it's too big to just wing it. And no, I don't write much of anything down, unless it's actual writing... for instance, the ending of book three is rough drafted already while I'm in edit on the first book and in the early stages of writing book 2.
     
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I'm more of an outliner. I think about the 3 to 4 "big things" that happen in the story and then keep kind of a loose, rolling outline of the area of the story I'm on to make sure I'm getting to those things at a good pace. Right now, for instance, I'm starting on a story with an outline that covers just about eight chapters. But I try to leave myself room for the story to still change and improve as I write it.

    I have trouble setting down to a blank page with no idea where I'm going. I don't necessarily need a lot of planning, but I need something before I can even get myself typing.
     
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  5. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I'm with Des on the waypoint writer. I do use plot points and I brainstorm some things before writing (theme, character, setting, those sorts of things), but I have found my best work to be ones where I let my creative juices flow. So what I do now is flesh out the idea first, then I use plot points as a guide to help me structure the story. I guess you could say that I pants from plot point to plot point.
     
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  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    It's a false dichotomy. There are more than just two ways of going about writing a story. There are, scientifically speaking, a kajillion ways.

    Just write. I guarantee, the way you write your next novel will be different.

    Maybe, just maybe, after you have written ten or twenty of them, you'll have it down to a formula. But whatever that formula, it will work only for you, not for me.
     
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  7. No frickin idea.

    Sorry, that's honestly the best answer I have.

    When I try to outline, i end up flushing the thing down the toilet halfway through. When i try to pants it, I panic and throw together an outline.

    I think mostly I cobble together a string of events and possible scenes, then freestyle the gaps, changing my plans as I need. So i'm really in between. My current WIP has leaned more toward pantsing than plotting, however.

    Edit: Btw, there's absolutely nothing wrong with not being able to make sense of those 20 outline books. Every writer is different. So is every story.

    Actually, I can't imagine approaching every story in the exact same way. So maybe I swing back and forth?
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2017
  8. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    Pantser for sure! My projects are usually born in the form of disjointed scenes with recurring characters. It gets the characters and setting/worldbuilding established; then I can figure out the plot from there.

    To be honest, this approach has its pitfalls. An unfortunately large number of my stories wither and die immediately after the beginning. I've been trying to plan more in the early stages to keep my plots from running into a dead end. So far it's working out pretty well, but I'll never be the kind of person who plans extensively. I don't so much outline as slap down a vague path for my story to follow.
     
  9. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Waypoint writer as well. I usually have a solid premise, a solid plan of points I like (but am willing to change as I go). I usually like to know the beginning and the end, but the middle can be an experiment.
     
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  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    This is me in a PM discussion, three days ago:

    I can barely write a page without already knowing a lot about where I'm going and what I want to do.

    I noticed long ago that I write best when I'm clear on what I'm writing, so I pretty much habitually stay away from the keyboard if I have no idea what I'm going to be doing.


    But this can affect me with outlines too. I've written long detailed outlines only to discover they were complete and utter trash--and way too rushed. I think of this as me not really knowing what I'd be doing but rather forcing an empty, logical plot and structure given only a threadbare grasp of all the other important elements of the characters and setting. [Edit: And story!]

    So these are the things I need to know before I can begin writing. If in my first chapter I know my POV character needs to get from the city wall to his home, as in my current WIP, I can't possibly begin to write that if I don't know how the passersby will view him and how he will view them, or the kind of route he'll take, the part of the city he's in and its features, and any sort of encounter he'll have.

    But in order to know these things, I have to think through much of the story first. Does he have a run-in with Character X or Character Y on his trip home in Chapter One; which of these characters does he meet in Chapter Two or Chapter Three instead? (He already spots the main protagonist while at the wall.) To the degree that setting is important to the whole plot (and it is) I need to know the things he sees and what he thinks about his setting, what is revealed to the reader now because it feeds into the whole reality of the story....before I can jot one word. I need to know why I'm putting what I'm putting in whatever I'm currently writing.

    I don't go quite as far out as you in outlining, perhaps, although it comes down to a matter of details. I have a general outline for the whole thing and need to have a firm understanding of the nearest chapters but the outline becomes more general the further out it is. I have a general understanding of how my WIP will end but almost no details have been determined, for instance. As I near it, I expect it to come into better focus.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2017
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Dept of FWIW: John Irving said he never wrote a novel where he did not know how the novel would end, right from the beginning. Sometimes it was down to knowing the final paragraph or even the final sentence. Increasingly I see the sense in that, thought I'm unable to duplicate it, so far
     
  12. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Yes! The middle is totally an experiment and it's so much fun that way. It's the most memorable part of a story for me.

    @Skip: I think if you have a general sense of the ending that might count, yes?
     
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Beats me. Ask me again after my fourth novel!
     
  14. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    I need the general story plotted out before I decide on specific details. I need to know the end so the story that is told justifies it.
     
  15. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I outline a lot, doing several passes of the story adding more and more detail each time. If I don't, I find my writing starts to veer off the path very quickly, and getting hung up on little irrelevant details that don't matter to the story I want to tell.

    Most of the plot/story is done before I even begin the first draft, and the rest is mainly about filling in the blank spaces and making pretty words - sort of.
     
  16. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    The size and scope of the story plays a pretty big role as well. A series of books with one continuous story, as opposed to a stand alone novel, for example, will usually require more planning.
     
  17. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I used to be a strict outliner, but I am evolving away from that to more of a navigator. I know where I am starting and I know where I want to end up, I discover most of the stuff in between along the way.
     
  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Plotter, pantser, waypoint writer and now navigator. Heh, lots of ways. I've been trying to find a label that fits me and maybe context writer works.

    I can't write anything unless I know the context for what I'm writing, which means knowing a lot about the whole story and plot; but on the whole I need to know the near events in finer detail than the far more distant parts. Some key details of the later parts are important, but others....

    Occurred to me after reading Skip's comment about endings. I'd said I have a general understanding of how my WIP would end but almost none of the details. That's not strictly true. I know broad details about the ending, but I wasn't really counting those because the finer details are either tentative right now or obscured (depending on the details) and when I think of detail I think of finer details. For instance, I know the villain dies and where, the characters who are present and how they got there, but am not settled on who kills him and how he dies. Well, I'm about 85% settled on who the killer is and am writing with that in mind. But I'm not sure it'll have the kind of emotional payoff I want and there are other decent choices. (Lots of people want to kill the villain....)
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2017
  19. Ronald T.

    Ronald T. Troubadour

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    Without a doubt, I'm a pantser every time.
     
  20. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    About endings...those are definitely my weak point. Often, I write past what ends up being the ending. It's muddy usually; I know how a book will end when I start writing it because it's something that comes automatically as I'm fleshing out the idea. It's just a general idea like, so and so ends up with this person, antagonist is overcome in this particular way, theme closes out in this way. That's pretty basic.

    So, the climax and and ending aren't the same thing. I used to think that I knew the ending, but really it was the climax that I had in mind. Once I figured out the difference, my structure improved at the end but it's still weak. The last novel I finished (My Ludmila) was a huge exercise in this. Endings are short. Climaxes are long. I put together the climax scene using the process given in Sizzling Outlines with a setting and death of a character before I started writing. Then when I got to that part, I just wrote what seemed logical after the fact. The ending ended up being a wedding set three months after the end of the climax.

    For once, coming to the ending wasn't a chaotic experience for me. I'm using this same tactic in my WIP (fleshing out the setting and big event of the climax ahead of time) and seeing what I end up with.
     
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