To plot or to pantser? What are the difference and which do you choose? Do you push yourself to plot your story because of someone saying real writers plot or does the method of pantser fit with your method of writing?
Over the years, I’ve witnessed authors debate that a great book can only be written if plotted. I don’t believe that to be true. Just because one person may plot their story to every fine detail, that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t thinking about their story in great length before they sit down to write.
When I first started writing, I had and idea for a story and I wrote the scenes that played like a movie in my imagination. When the scenes stopped playing, I would stop writing until the movies started playing again. I literally wrote my first book, ‘A Sister’s Book’ by the seat of my pants. I admit, I didn’t know what I was doing. At the time, all I knew was I had a desire to write because I had a story to tell. It’s still true today. Although I haven’t published anything in the last two years, I’ve continued to write by the plotting method and on occasion by pantser.
What is plotting?
For the longest time, I couldn’t wrap my mind around plotting or outlining my story. When I thought about the term ‘outline’ in my mind I imagined roman numerals (I, II, III) and so forth. After I read ‘Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook’ by Donald Masss, plotting started to make sense to me.
What I learned is that plotting begins with one sentence describing your story. For example, one sentence to describe my story, two estranged sisters find forgiveness, while one finds true love. My heroine and hero are attracted to each other. Yet, there are obstacles that prevent them from either admitting their feelings to one another and being able to be together. As my story continues, the stakes, emotional tension and obstacles increase. One important tip I use in plotting my stories is asking: who, where, what, when and how.
Who: The heroine and hero’s first name. I decide on the last names later. Since my heroines are always Native American Lumbee, I use surnames common of the Lumbee tribe.
Where: where did the heroine and hero first meet. This is always my opening scene for Chapter 1. In ‘A Sister’s Love’ my heroine, Flo, receives a call in the middle of the night from Jack, the hero, with bad news about Flo’s sister, Priscilla, in New York City. This is also a good time to ask where? What city and state does your story takes place?
What: This is where you brainstorm your (GMC) goal-motivated-conflicts. Flo goes to New York City to see about her sister and her twin niece and nephew, Matt and Makayla. While there Flo is overwhelmed with the bond and James has with Matt and Makayla. When the time comes for Flo to fly home for the funeral of her sister Priscilla, Matt and Makayla will not go unless Jack goes too.
When you’re writing your story, think about situations that would force your two characters to be stuck together. If you need inspiration, keep a journal of ideas, news paper clippings of events and things happening. For example, your story takes place in the winter time. Your hero and heroine are working late and the power grid goes down. It’s snowing even it they went down the stairs to exit the building, the streets are dark. Brainstorm and think about the conservation the two would have. Would they argue? Would the heroine panic because she’s afraid of the dark? Would the heroine be worried about her pet at home, would they be worried about her kids because she’s a single mom? You want to give your couple time to be together, for them to come face to face with the emotional pull of attraction. Keep in mind you don’t want it too easy for your characters to be together. Each conflict or obstacle should build and escalate to a bleak moment.
When: Think about scene ideas for when the heroine realizes she’s in love with the hero and the same for the hero.
What are some things the hero would do to show he loved the heroine and vice versa using the five languages of love? The five language of love are: acts of service, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time, and works of affirmation.
Remember any ides you brainstorm isn’t set in stone. Most often one idea may lead to something different. I experienced this with my current WIP (work in progress). I’ve changed the story line so many times I’ve lost count. Caroline, my heroine, first worked as a nurse at a hospital, then she owned a coffee shop across the street from a hospital. None of these job ideas for my character seem to fit. Why didn’t it fit? I needed a way for Caroline and James to be ‘stuck’ living together for a short period of time to rediscover their love for one another. I continued to research and one day while googling job generator for characters I came across horse ranch owner. My ideas began to flow and I knew I had found the perfect solution.
When you’re asking the questions of who, what, when, where and how, also think about your characters physical characteristics. What do they look like; what are their internal flaws; what are their emotional goals and exterior goals.
If your interested in learning more about story planning for pantsers, there is a workshop offered by RWA On-Line Chapter beginning Oct 4th – October 22, 2021 and the fee is 15th. If you’re interested, this is the last week to register.
About the workshop:
Flying by the seat of your pants to write the first draft for your book feels so freeing. It’s a time to play, to experiment, to try out new ideas. What fun!
But diving into a project as big as a novel without any plan at all often means a lot of extra work after the draft is completed as you scramble to revise hundreds of pages that might have no cohesion, inconsistent characters, or a wandering plot.
One way to lessen that extra work is to go into the rough draft phase of your book with a better idea of where the story’s headed. That doesn’t mean knowing everything about your story (how boring would that be?), but it does mean knowing something to give your story direction.
“Outline” is a scary word for most pantsers. It sounds restrictive, it sounds tedious, it sounds boring. So, there will be no “outlines” here. Nope. None. Instead, you’re going to build yourself a “framework” for your story that’s open and flexible, with plenty of room for playing, experimenting, and checking out new ideas off the beaten path whenever the inspiration strikes you.
Story Planning for Pantsers: Keep your freedom, but keep on track, too.
Until next time, keep reaching for the stars!