Thursday, March 21, 2013

Plotter, Pantser, or Panther

Panther. I made that up myself. See, we were talking about plots at the writers group tonight, and of course we discussed whether we were Plotters (write a plot outline before beginning the story) or Pantsers (writing by the seats of our various pants).

As it turns out, most of us are Panthers. We sort of plot but we sort of don't.

Some of us diligently write out our plot points. Some of us make storyboards, with each scene having its own little square of space. Some of us write the story's through line in paragraph form. Some of us write without a plot until we get stuck, then we work one out.

One way or another, we stalk the wild creativity where we know it's most likely to be and then, when we spot it, we leap! We leap upon it! Fast! Like: LEAP!

Plotting outlines seems to be a way many of us use to creep up on creativity. If we have an outline, we don't have to worry about where the story is going or how it will end. If nothing better comes to us, we've got that covered. We have a story arc. We have a resolution. We don't have to worry about it. With that out of the way, we're free to let character, situation, and randomness carry us along a different arc to a different resolution, if that feels better. If it doesn't work out, we know we already have something to fall back on.

If you're having trouble working your way through an entire story to the end, try hammering out a plot with the heartless intention of abandoning it if a big juicy Bambi crosses your path.

Then, if you're in a writers' meeting, and somebody asks if you're a Plotter or a Pantser, you can say, "I'm a Panther, baby!"

How cool will that be?

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes
Marian Allen is the author of numerous short stories and novels. Her latest is The Fall of Onagros, Book 1 of SAGE, published by Hydra Publications (not associated with Random House).

10 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Marian,

I do think mysteries in particular need to be plotted. That way the story has unity. This doesn't mean that well-developed characters aren't important though.

Marian Allen said...

I see your point. I've certainly read more than one mystery that seemed to have been written by two different people with poor communication skills. In a mystery, it does seem to me that a great deal of it needs to be solid, so that other parts can be mutable and still make sense. Like TREES! With PANTHERS!

mona-karel.com said...

Love the panther analogy. And while I agree some books need a better root system to stand up in the wind, most would benefit from an occasional graft. Allowing your fingers to go off on their own from time to time does (IMO) add layers to a story you might never have considered when rigidly following a plot. I know many writers who do plot successfully and I applaud them. But I find the side trips to sometimes be the best part of getting somewhere. Though I don't travel that way, hmmmm

Marian Lanouette said...

I'm a pantser but with that said. I do a rough outline and character charts before I start. As I write the first draft, I also have a chapter timeline to make sure all loose ends are tied up.

Alexis Morgan said...

I write about 6-8 page synopsis that includes a one paragraph character description for the hero/heroine/maybe the villain. The beginning of the plot is pretty detailed, the middle is a muddle, and then the ending is clear. After that, I start writing and rarely look back at the synopsis.I admire my friend's ability to plot in detail, but I just can't do it. And I love the panther image!

Sarah Glenn said...

I usually start with one idea of what the story is about. Later, I discover that I'm really writing about something else. :)

Marian Allen said...

I said at the writers' meeting that my plot outlines are sort of like training wheels: I like to have one and use it until the story and characters come to life and have their own dynamics. Then, if that dynamic follows the outline, fine; if it doesn't, I remove the outline and finish the trip without it.

Jan Christensen said...

I never plot. I usually start off with one single idea and a character. And I just write. I have two things about plotting I worry about. One, I'm afraid I'll be bored with the story and it won't be spontaneous enough and I might not finish it. Two, it takes extra time I could use just writing the thing. For mysteries, I usually have no idea who the villain is until 2/3s or 3/4s of the way through. I give everyone a motive and opportunity to commit the crime, and then I choose the most unlikely person to have done it, go back and tweak some clues, and there you go. So, it's not exactly that I don't have a plan--I just explained it to you. LOL I just don't plot it out.

Leigh Neely said...

I plotted diligently for years but the books weren't completed. For my latest project I started with an idea and plotted as characters dictated. I sold this book. In conclusion, you do what works for you.g

Marian Allen said...

Jan and Leigh, that's the one unbreakable rule of writing: Do whatever works for you! lol!