As anybody vaguely in touch with the world of writing knows, one of the big discussions that regularly takes place relates to the pros and cons of plotting vs pantsing. In summary, a plotter is someone who plots out every aspect of their story before they begin writing, while a pantser is someone who basically makes it up as they go (i.e. flying by the seat of their pants).
When thinking about my position in this debate, I’ve always placed myself somewhere near the middle. There have been aspects of both plotting and pantsing in all my writing. Some of my stories have been very carefully plotted out from beginning to end (particularly the novels) while others have evolved at random with little idea of which way the story will progress (i.e. the Neville Lansdowne novellas).
As I’m working on my latest novel, I’ve uncovered yet another interesting variation on this whole plotting vs pantsing dichotomy. Because this is the most complicated work I’ve ever attempted, with multiple interrelated narratives, I thought the best way to approach it would be to plot it quite carefully. However, when I tried to do this, I struggled. I found that I didn’t know enough about the story or the characters to make any reasonable plotting decisions. So, after several months of very little progress, I decided to take the opposite approach. I would just begin writing and see where I got. Definitely a pantsing type approach, although I did have a number of key plotpoints I was working around.
Now, almost a year later, with a first draft that’s well developed, I can look back and reconsider my progress. This approach I’ve chosen, which seems to correspond most closely with pantsing, is in a funny kind of way much more like plotting. As I slowly force the words out of my head and onto the page, I’m figuring out a whole lot about the story. Character traits. Key plot points. Synchronicity between the story strands. What I’m basically doing, while I’m making it up as I go along, is plotting.
It may not be the most time efficient method for plotting. At times it may seem quite tangled and tortuous. But I couldn’t plot it any other way. I just couldn’t learn enough about the story without first having a go at writing it.
In some ways, what I’ve created is less a first draft and more of a rough plan (although it could be argued that that’s what a first draft is anyway). Once I’ve completed this draft, I’m going to let it sit for quite a while (maybe 6 months or so) and then come back and analyse it closely. In some ways, the real writing task won’t begin until I’ve fully nutted out exactly how the story will function, based on that plan.
So there you have it. Plotting vs pantsing. From where I look at it, they’re just two different ways of doing the exact same thing.
Posted by Jonathan Gould and tagged as