Friday, June 11, 2010

Winging it

In the endless debate over plotters vs. pantsers, I definitely fall into the pantsers category--which always surprises anyone who knows me, because...well...I'm a little OCD. (Okay, fine, I'm a LOT OCD.) So people are always trying to figure out how someone as organized as me could fly by the seat of my pants when I write.

But, see, that's the thing. I'm TOO obsessively organized to be a plotter. I've tried it. I spent so much time over-thinking and over-organinizing my outline that I sucked all the life out of my story--big time.  I had to change my approach.

Now I work with what I call a 'loose outline,' meaning I know roughly where the story ends, a couple of major plot points along the way, and that's it. The rest comes to me as I go. And from the very first day I tried this method it was like a revelation. In fact, everyone's favorite character in my MS--the one that has turned more than one CP/Beta reader into a Cougar (they're already planning to make T-Shirts)--exists solely because I threw my outline out the window.

No, really. I was about 1/3 of the way through my rough draft. I had my plot completely outlined. My characters set. And...it wasn't working. So I decided to just write--just have my character go from Point A to Point B, no skipping to the next scene in the outline. Which meant my main character wandered down the wrong hallway and got completely lost. She needed to ask someone for help, so I decided to create a new character and BAM--a fan favorite was born.

I'd never had a character appear so complete. He had a voice. He had a backstory. He had...plans. My hand actually hurt as I tried to write it all down before I could forget it. He has not only wormed his way through the first book--he'll be in the whole series. And he never would have existed if I hadn't decided to fly by the seat of my pants.

So yeah, I'm definitely a pantser. Is it a more inefficient way to write? Probably. (I always cut more than I keep). Does it drive the OCD part of me crazy? Absolutely. But it works.

What about you guys? Plotters? Pantsers? Somewhere in between? What works best for you, and why?

34 comments:

  1. I'm a panster but I was going to try a new method for my next WiP. I'm not sure how that's going to work out.
    I'm cutting a lot in my current WiP so I thought I may try a different method.
    I like the idea of a loose outline though. I was scared to try a strict outline.
    THanks!

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  2. Wow!! I have no idea what a panster is but I love how being a panster works here for you! LOL!

    Seriously though, I'm always interested in other writers' methodology and it's refreshing to learn that it all depends individually! :-)

    I have no idea what I am - I get an idea - and just write and wing it! Maybe that's me - I'm a ..wing-er!

    Take care
    x

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  3. This character who's wormed his way into everything sounds really interesting. Maybe one day I'll get to read about him (maybe I'll even get myself one of those t-shirts if he's as awesome as you say he is!).

    I...don't know how to describe my writing process. I don't outline it but it's all already fully formed in my head. Maybe I'll do a post about it in the next couple of weeks or something to try and explain. It's complicated because there's so many possibilities for where the story can go but all the possible futures and supporting back stories are already fully formed in my head. I never specifically outline but I never just go with it. It's a weird muddy mixture of both. I guess it's not that complicated....

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  4. If by turned into a Cougar you mean that they are lusting after your much younger male romantic lead that's HAWT. If you mean something else you lost me. Great post though Shannon!

    Today's guest blogger is Hilary Wagner!

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  5. I guess I'd have to say I'm like you, a loose panster. It works for me because by chapter 10 I need a little reminder of structure/plot points.

    I love it when an unexpected character shows up. I had one do that to me last week. And I hate to say it, I'm drooling over him. He is soooo cute!

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  6. I write just like you do, for the same reason. I'm an organizer and if it organize my story beforehand, it sucks the life out of it. Besides I like writing with my "back to the wind." It's the only thing I do like that, and it's a wonderful feeling.

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  7. I'm definitely a pantser. Now that you've put it into categories, I can see why outlines don't work for me. I've tried them, but they're a no go. I end up with a lot of extra characters and plot twists. That's what makes writing so much fun for me. It's the mystery of it all. LOL

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  8. I'm an outliner! I'm very organized and I like to know where I'm headed when writing. But then, I've also played out the entire story in my head, so the outline is a second run through the tale.
    Some things do take me by surprise, but not in outline terms. By the time I finished writing Book I of my series, I had outlines for four other books. What surprised me was which four characters demanded that their story be told!

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  9. Outlining does me absolutely no good b/c I always end up writing whatever comes to me. So I became a pantser and proud! Who doesn't love how a random scene can take you to places unknown?! My favorite scenes and characters have come to me that way.

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  10. I'm like you: an idea of the ending, plus the 2 or 3 major plot points along the way. A general understanding of what will happen in-between, but nothing set in stone.

    I've tried outlining, but I always get off course, and if I try to stay on course, the creative spark in me sizzles and dies.

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  11. I'm somewhere in the middle. I started outlining for my current WIP, but the story has REALLY evolved away from where I thought I would take it. It's simpler, yet stronger. I'm surprised at the stuff that comes out when I open the flood gate.

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  12. Ditto here. I'm an organizer by nature, but plotting sucks the entire creative process from me and I don't want to write the book! I need to know the main character(s) in my head, and know the starting and the ending, and I'm good to go :)

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  13. I never realized that I was part of the pantser clan. Now I know. If I outline, it sucks the life right out of me. A skeletal outline works much better for me.

    Enjoy your weekend.

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  14. I'm an outliner all the way and I've never found that it sucks away any of my creativity. I love the structure that it provides (and it makes for an easier revision). I still have new characters and plot twists pop up but I'm more prepared to incorporate them when I know where I'm going.

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  15. I think I'm more on the plotter side of things because if I don't know where I'm headed I cannot write. (Really--I stare at the page and forget every word I've ever learned.) However, details and dialogue are usually spontaneous and sometimes become unplanned gems--that is fun.

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  16. That's awesome! I love it when a character just appears like that!

    I'm somewhere in the middle. I find I have to have some vague idea what the ending is, and usually the core idea of the plot comes with the "setup" (ie. the inciting incident) but other than a few events that I think are going to happen, I'm pretty free. I always have to know my MC well before I start, but everyone else sort of forms themselves as I write.

    In my current book, I had something similar where a character that was supposed to play a minor role kept showing up every time I tried to write a scene about another character who was supposed to have a big role. Like literally the big role guy would be like "Hey!" to my MC and then the smaller role guy would step in front of him and steal my MC's attention. I finally realized he was the one that should be up front and that he was a much more interesting character. And now he's the one my betas love the most!

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  17. I used to be a pantser, but I've become a little more of a plotter now. My outlines are fairly detailed and about five pages long, but I make sure to remind myself often that they are only POTENTIAL outlines. I add characters, I change plot twists, etc. It's been working well so far.

    I love that your character went down a wrong hallway and found a new boy! He sounds dreamy ;)

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  18. I *still* think you shoulda titled this post "the boy who got into my pants"

    ;-)

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  19. Used to be a panster, now an Inbetweenie. I need the structure of my scenery, where the WiP is taking place, some research, fieldtrips, outlining plot points or now I'm outlining down to the scenes to avoid plot holes which I used to plague myself with. But I let my characters develop still as a pantser. They even name themselves. I have no say in what they do 99% of the time. :)
    Have a great weekend!

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  20. I'm a pantster too, but tend to use a rough outline like you. Happy weekend to you! :)

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  21. Count me in with the Outliners. I'm not obsessive about it, but I do outline each chapter and the major plot points that take place in it. It doesn't mean that things don't change, because they do, and therefore the outline will probably change with it.

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  22. I don't like to outline, at least not in written form, but I have a hard time just free writing too. I sort of outline in my head and then write it down. I love the story about that character. I've had surprise characters pop up sometimes too and it's terrific.

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  23. I'm sort of like you, I think. I plan the major turning points, etc, but apart from that I try to let it flow! It usually means a lot of rewriting but I get some great ideas from the flow.

    Have a great weekend, Shannon.

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  24. I'm a pantser.
    I usually know how it's going to start and end, but I tend to just write and work out the twists from there. :)

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  25. Love the term, panster! You taught me a new word today. Shannon, I tried to outline once, and I've never done it since. It turned writing into an assignment, lol! I couldn't do it. I felt like I was trying out a new recipe and I had to keep checking the index card for the next step. I keep a fufu journal of notes and ideas. I buy the gaudiest journal I can possibly afford and fill it with all sorts of writing ideas. You know, the sort of journal that is too pretty to actually use? Somehow that gets me over my jitters of diving in. I've found that if I jot down a few notes about where I think the story is going, then I'm able to tackle it on the computer. So I'm definitely all about winging it.

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  26. Pantser - it's more fun to say. ;o)

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  27. I think it definitely pays off (much like you've proven!) to be a pantser (and by the way, love that word, lol). Having a plan is great when writing, but once you hit a wall, you need to be able to get creative and come up with a different approach. Plus, being a pantser lets you write about something you probably wouldn't have ordinarily thought of.

    Nice post! :D

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  28. Oh, good! We're back to being the same again. Ha ha ha. :-)

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  29. I've tried plotting but I'm a much better pantser :)

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  30. I'm a plotter for sure! But my outline is always flexible. I just need a general idea of who my characters are, what's going to happen, how it will end, major plot points, etc. It keeps from feeling overwhelmed and getting stuck!

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  31. That's more or less how I go about it, too: a very broad outline, then go by feel from there.

    I think of it like taking a vacation. I'd like to do a LITTLE planning ahead of time; you know, make some airline reservations, book a hotel, maybe a car, and decide on a few sites I'd like to see. But once you're ON the vacation, it's often best to see where it takes you, meet new people, see something one of the locals told you about.

    "Prepare in the mind, proceed with the gut" is what I always say!

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  32. Oh, I like Sean's way of describing (my) process. :)

    Yeah, I'm a pantser. But I have some vague idea of the main plot...and my main character has already visited me...and then I just let the MC take me on the journey.

    This does lead me to plenty of plot holes, and I sort of consider that first draft as a very, VERY long outline. And so, yeah, I do have to slog through Revision Hell numerous times. Not so fun. But that first draft is a blast! :)

    Me and outlining don't get along. Just the word makes me yawn. Blech.

    Another fun post, Shannon. :)

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  33. Somewhere in the middle I guess?? I usually know the beginning, middle, and end of a story. It might change while writing but I have a firm grasp on what I want when I start. If it flows, I keep going. If it does not, I go work on something else. I've found that my writing tends to depend on my mood and on what I've been reading. Trying to outline rarely ever works. It may spur a new idea, but for the most part it stresses me out.

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