Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Why I am a Plotter (I think)

Harry Potter plotter

I am a firm believer in having a vision of what you want to produce before you create something.  The goal, the destination, I find necessary.

The level of detail in said vision varies, and that may be one way of describing the difference between so-called plotters and pantsers.  Pansters must (I assume) go into a draft with a vision for what they want to create--it's just much less detailed than the vision/plan a plotter would start with.

I think there's more to it than the level of detail in pre-writing, however.

I've heard pantsers talk about the first draft as a "journey of discovery."  For me, writing a draft is much more a journey with a fixed destination--a point on the horizon that, however complex it may be and however twisty the road may get and however much I may not be aiming for exactly the right place yet, I am headed towards.  And that destination is much more than a word count or the satisfaction of typing "The End."  It's the combined effect of many specific stops along the way.

Bilbo Hobbit beginning
What's that knocking?  Why, it's a barrage of Hobbit pictures and comparisons.

This is in part because the haphazardness that journeys of discovery entail scares the crap out of me.  I am not a spontaneous person.  (Ask my friends who try to get me to go out without planning it days beforehand.)  So while such experimentation is necessary, I find it too overwhelming to do that AND be master of myself enough to put words on the page at the same time.

Bilbo Hobbit Dwarves
If you really NEEDED me to go somewhere on short notice, it would probably look a lot like this.

And now that Bilbo Baggins has invaded my post...  More importantly, perhaps: when I'm actually drafting, I feel the need to know where I'm going.  Bilbo, as you may have noticed, has little idea where he's going or what he's signed up for when he runs off on his Unexpected Journey.  

Bilbo Hobbit running
"In control" is not exactly the phrase that comes to mind.

And--thank you, Bilbo, you're perfect--Bilbo does write his story down.  But he does it after he's experienced the wide-eyed discovery of the unexpected.

This isn't a perfect analogy, of course--no matter how detailed my plan is, drafting is still an exciting journey with unforseeable twists and turns. It's just that I find it very important to have a destination fixed firmly in mind before I depart.  This is especially true when we're talking about revisions. 

Lonely Mountain roadtrip
Behold!  I sighted the Lonely Mountain on a family car trip!

~~This blog post brought to you by the frustration I am experiencing because I am STILL outlining.  I want to just open that document and WRITE.  But if I did that now, I would flounder and flail and get overwhelmed and nothing much would get done.

Overwhelmed IS the word...

So, back to the outline I go!


  1. Great comparison, Susan! I'm always game for Hobbit comparisons. I am primarily a plotter at heart. That's why it's driving me nuts to no end that my current WIP has fallen more in the pantsing category. I have an idea where it's going and details along the way, but for whatever reason, I'm struggling to sit down and force myself to make a detailed outline. And I desperately need to. I think maybe this is giving me the kick in the pants I need to plot my route to Mount Doom like Frodo with the one ring. :P

    1. P.S. I figured I might as well toss in some LOTR comparisons as well. Why not, right? :-)

    2. ALL the LotR comparisons are always welcome on this blog. :) Good luck wrangling that WiP of yours!

  2. I'm with you, Susan. I'm all for the unexpected journey, so long as I've got an expected destination! Give me that point to aim for, and I'm cool with letting my characters run amok like a company of dwarves. Something, something, blah-blah, more "Hobbit" comparisons -- because yes to "Hobbit" comparisons! *squeezes Bilbo*

    Here's hoping you get past that itchy feeling when you want to just be done with the outline and *get writing, already* soon. Happy adventuring!

  3. I am a plotter, in life as well as writing. I hate just "going for a walk" -- I need a place to walk to, be it the playground or the stop sign or whatever.

    When I first started writing, as a teen, I tried pantsing. I created a couple characters, tossed them into a situation, and wrote merrily along until an ending occurred. Terrifying. Then, I wrote a story where I knew how it ended, and I loooooooooooved how the writing poured itself out on the page. I've never gone back to pantsing.

    But I don't outline. I won't start writing until I know key things: protagonist, antagonist, setting, theme, ending. Once I have those, I also usually have several key scenes, and I write from scene to scene, finding new twists and characters and smaller themes as I go. But as long as I have my ending in sight, I never stray far off track. i need a little of the sense of discovery to keep me from getting bored as I write, I guess. I did try outlining once, and I never have finished that novella.

  4. Hamlette, You've explained it perfectly! That is exactly how I write, too. A few definite details, and a general idea of beginning, middleish, and end. But I don't outline, either, except for in my head, I guess.

    Good luck + tea and chocolate for your outlining!

  5. THANK YOU, Mere Joyce, for the luck, tea, and chocolate! And thank you everyone for chiming in--so interesting!

    *goes to brew a cup of tea*

  6. First - I love all of the comparisons to The Hobbit.

    I can be the same in some writing circumstances. Some days I plan out when I am going to be writing, but most days I just grab that contract and run out my front door with my bare feet and my pack! I wish I were a bit more of a plotter. It can be frustrating when the book turns a whole different direction and I can't get back to where I wanted the book to go.

    You can do it - good luck outlining!

  7. Great post, Susan! While I am more of a pantser, I can certainly empathize with your plight and wish you the very best! I think plotting would certainly help eliminate some of the drafts that us pantsers/hybirds have to go through in the rewriting process. ;) Best of luck to you!

  8. Great post, Susan! While I am more of a pantser, I can certainly empathize with your plight and wish you the very best! I think plotting would certainly help eliminate some of the drafts that us pantsers/hybirds have to go through in the rewriting process. ;) Best of luck to you!

  9. I outline but sometimes I completely stray from it while I'm writing. It seems to work for me, I guess.

  10. What a great post! I am a total pantser. I'm trying to reform on my WIP -- sat down and made a lovely outline. Then sat down to write, and I swear, not two pages in, a whole new character popped up out of nowhere and wormed his way into the story. So far, I'm not having any luck changing my spots. But I tip my hat to the plotters -- maybe someday I'll be able to join y'all.

    1. I think it's a personality difference, neither one better or worse. Be proud to be yourself ;)

    2. I agree that it is a personality difference, for the record. This post was about me and how my novel-planning habits mirror my personality.

  11. I'm definitely a plotter when it comes to shopping. I don't generally window-shop. Unless I'm going to Barnes & Noble, and I can stand around for hours browsing at books and leave without buying anything. But with novels... I'm not sure whether it's because I enjoy the discovery of pantsing (or at least semi-pantsing--I can't imagine any pantser truly improvises the whole novel), or whether I'm too impatient to get the story down to worry about plans, outlines, and details like that.

    What I know is this: there are very successful writers on both sides of the pantser-plotter continuum, and plenty who live somewhere in between. You just have to find what works for you, both in terms of comfort and productivity. But you should never feel like you have to justify your methodology. After all, most people will only ever see the end result--your book, and that's what matters. :)

  12. I consider myself more pants than plot... but I can't start writing without having a destination in mind. I just don't know what it's going to take to get there. Thing Lord of the Rings, rather than the Hobbit: I know I need to destroy the ring, I just don't actually know the route to Mordor.