So, you wanna be a writer? To pants or to plot?

Have you been reading Death’s Apprentice?

If you haven’t, don’t worry, you’re not in trouble 🙂

Death’s Apprentice is a writing experiment I’m undertaking where, every Wednesday, I sit down and write a portion of my next novel without having plotted any part of the storyline. This is an experiment for me as I’m usually more of a plotter than a pantser.

But what is a pantser?

A pantser is someone who writes without plotting, they pretty much write by the seat of their pants. They let the situation and the characters determine what happens next.

As a plotter, writing Death’s Apprentice as a pantser is really taking me out of my comfort zone and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

As a plotter, I usually have a fairly good idea of my characters because I write quite detailed biographies for each one. I also pretty much know how my story will end, I just don’t necessarily know all the plot points of how I’m going to get there. Think of it as a bus journey; I know where the destination is, I just don’t necessarily know all of the stops on the way.

A true plotter would probably have mapped out all the stops. I plot as I’m going. This gives my brain time to think and gives me space to breathe. This is how I work but you will find what works for you the more you write and experiment.

What are the advantages of plotting?

You know your characters. You know what drives them; their flaws and their ambitions, their thoughts and desires. It should make writing them slightly easier as you know what they want and what they would do in any given situation.

You know, when you begin writing, the destination you’re heading for. This can give you more confidence as you write.

It keeps your writing on track and you will be less likely to ramble. You will be more likely to stick to the point. This can mean less editing (although that’s not always the case).

What are the disadvantages of plotting?

Sometimes, sticking rigidly to a plot can make your writing boring.

There are no surprises for you to deal with as you write.

Your writing process may lack spontaneity.

It can make the author less open to changing a part of the storyline if something better presents itself.

It can stifle your creativity and make the process boring.

So, what can you do?

Personally, my approach is to plan but remain open to new ideas. I’ve learnt to be flexible and that’s why I plot as I go along.

I make sure I have detailed biographies of my characters and this is one thing I don’t rush. Knowing your characters before you begin to write helps a lot. It gives me confidence as I write and, I think, it makes the characters richer as you bring them to life on the page.

I have a bare skeleton of where I’m going. With Dragon Rider, I knew that Drake, my lead character, would have to face Death in her domain. I knew he would have a face-off with Fenrik, the being that murdered his father. I knew his need for revenge would hinder him. I knew how the book would end. I just didn’t know exactly how I was going to get there.

The most important thing I’ve learnt though is to let things go when they don’t work. My original plan for Death’s domain was so boring and it didn’t make sense. I ended up cutting around 20,000 words and starting again for that section. And that’s okay.

Neither plotting nor pantsing is perfect. No one way of writing is correct and the other wrong. I believe you have to do what works for you and finding what that is will only come with experience and writing practice.

So, what have you found that works for you? Do you write detailed character biographies? Do you have a clear idea of where you’re going? Or do you, indeed, fly by the seat of your pants?

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