Pantser or Plotter?

I don’t usually talk about writing on this blog. Mostly because I doubt that many of you are writers or that I would have anything of value to contribute to your knowledge.

However, several times recently I’ve been asked a question about my WIP (work in progress), and I’ve ended up explaining the difference between pantsers and plotters and how that relates to my writing.

Here’s the nutshell version. A plotter outlines the whole novel–I’ve heard of authors who have fifty or sixty pages of details all written down in proper outline form. He or she knows exactly where the story is going and follows the outline carefully. It’s rare that the plotter deviates from the plan. The plotter doesn’t let his characters take over the story and do their own thing.

I’ve never been a strict plotter. I don’t outline–hated that in school, hate it even more now. But what I normally do–I say “normally” because that’s what I’ve done with my three published novels and my nine unpublished ones–is to create a list of bullet points, different things I know must happen in the story, and arrange and fit them within the format of a three-act play. I know which events cause other events to happen.

My bullet points fill anywhere from four to eight pages, and it usually takes me weeks to complete that document. I feel as if I don’t dare to start the actual writing until I’ve finished my bullet point mock-outline. At the same time, I’m so familiar with my overall story by then that I seldom–if ever–look at that document while doing the actual writing.

Occasionally I’ll let the characters take over for a short time, but I don’t let them lead me away from following my carefully chosen course.

“Pantsers” are people who write “by the seat of their pants.” They have an idea and they plunge right into writing their story. They have a lot of fun simply being creative and letting things happen as they may. Their first draft is apt to need a HUGE amount of revising because it’s apt to have some irrelevant rabbit holes–perhaps little side trails that don’t really contribute to the story–that need to be changed or eliminated. But boy! did they have fun writing that first draft.

I’ve always admired pantsers who end up with a good book, but I’ve never wanted to be one. I couldn’t be one. I have to know what’s going to happen when and how we get from point A to point B to point C. I’m too rational and too logical to just write and let the story evolve that way.

But something unexpected happened in working on my WIP. I’d come up with the idea for PLAY THE RIGHT GAME three or four years ago. I had an eight-page bullet point document and had even written the first chapter.

But then–for what reason I don’t recall–I left my plans for PLAY THE RIGHT GAME in my UNFINISHED NOVELS folder and moved on to something different.

Sometime last year I was at the point of needing to start a new novel. I looked through a list of ideas I maintain for possible future use and stopped at PLAY THE RIGHT GAME. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but it was almost as if God was saying, “This is the one. Go for it.”

I wasn’t about to argue with God, so I started working on it again. But I didn’t feel very enthusiastic. The original idea just didn’t turn me on. I tried to create a new bullet point document, but it just wasn’t coming. So I wrote a new Chapter One.

And oh! did that chapter change my thinking. I introduced a new character, one I’d expected to play a very minor role in the story, and realized she was going to be a major character. And I introduced two male characters, both of whom were major players.

Suddenly I had the potential for a double romance story with multiple conflicts over which woman would end up with which man.

I’ve written 65,000 words now out of an anticipated 80,000, and I’ve allowed my characters to do their own things and steer the story in a somewhat different direction that I’d intended originally. Somewhat different? Ha! This story is nothing at all like I’d originally intended.

And there’s no telling what twists and turns will take place within the final 15,000 words. But it will be interesting. Hopefully something my readers will love.

So for once in my life I’ve ignored logic and care and thrown caution to the wind and let my creative spirit take over. But even if PLAY THE RIGHT GAME proves highly successful, I sure hope God doesn’t lead me to write this way again.

But if He does, I’ll do my best to count on Him for my novels to flow the way He wants them to flow and to say the things He wants them to say.

What do you think? If you’re not a writer–or even if you are–would you be a plotter or a pantser? How about leaving a comment?

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Best regards,
Roger