Sunday, August 12, 2007

Plotter or Pantser, that is the Question...

If you sit and listen to any group of writers talk, eventually, you'll hear the familiar question of, "Are you a plotter or a pantser?"

No, this isn't some secret handshake or a writing outfit, it's something which was created to bring torment and evil down upon every writer's head!!! (Okay, got a little carried away there, sorry...) But seriously, plotter, is just what it sounds like - a writer who plots out their book, some meticulously, some loosely. And a pantser is someone who has a vague idea what their book is about, and who the characters are, and just sits down and writes and sees what happens as it goes.

Now, I have tried both of these methods, and thought I'd share my pain and suffering so you would be better able to compare and contrast.

I started out trying to be a plotter. After all, I mistakenly figured all writers were. I mean, how could they write all those intricate twists and turns and then bring back in something that happened on page 4 without careful planning, right? So, when I got an idea for my very first book, I scribbled down scene and plot ideas on a piece of paper and had the entire book planned out before I even tried to write one chapter.

So, what happened? I hated it and considered throwing myself on my sharp pencil and putting and end to my suffering. It just wasn't any fun for me to plan out everything first, because by the time I started writing, I was sick of the story!

But, I wanted to be a writer, so once I finished the plotting, I sat down and wrote the first three chapters. Granted, they were three of the most horrible chapters known to man, but hey, they were my first three chapters of a book that I was GOING to publish, so I was doing a happy dance.

Fast forward to my first meeting with my critique group. They all read my chapters and besides telling me things like numbers are spelled out, okay is spelled out and not written as "ok," the hero and the heroine should probably meet in the first three chapters, no head hopping and etc, they weren't warm and fuzzy with my plot either. Too contrived, too predictable, too cliche. And I have to admit looking back, they were totally and completely right.

I rewrote those chapters and struggled through several dozen more rewrites to finish that book. I did sell that book, it came out as Into a Dangerous Mind, which was an RT Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Small Press Contemporary Paranormal for 2006. It's currently with my agent so we can resell it. But the moral of that story is, the book did turn out okay.

BUT - I found out the hard way that as I wrote, I would find better ideas and I would end up deviating from the plot, and then I would spend countless hours going back and refiguring out the plot. GRRRRR!!!!

For my second book, I decided that plotting was not for me, so screw plotting. I was now a self-proclaimed pantser. So, I sat down to write what would become Stone Maiden. I wrote and wrote and my plot meandered and curled and twisted and I ended up rewriting and banging my head against the wall to get out of dead ends I'd written myself into. But, on a bright note, I liked this better than plotting! The book did well, and finaled in the Golden Quill contest and was nominated for eCataRomance Reviewer's choice award. Yet, I knew I hadn't quite found a solution which worked for me. On one bright note - I found out that you can still make those twisty plots happen and tie in things you did on page 4 because your subconscious is really great about remembering those things and bringing them to the surface when you need them!

By the time I sat down to write Fire Maiden, I was leery of trying either of the methods above. So, I tried my best to combine the two. I brainstormed with my critique group and scribbled down important things I knew I wanted in the book and didn't want to forget. Then I did some character sketches - birth to present, which really helped me get to know my characters and to write in their voice. Only THEN did I sit down and write. This allowed me enough structure to not totally flounder, since I knew a general direction I wanted to go in, but also allowed me the freedom to use new ideas as they came to me. Woo Hoo! I had found my style.

Is it perfect? Hell, no. I still bang my head against the wall on plenty of occasions, but it's a good fit for me and taking the best parts of both worlds has helped me finish all my other books to date.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not touting that this is right for you. I've tried to show you a little of my painful journey above so you can see that everyone is different. I have a good friend who plots every minute detail - to a point which would drive me insane. But it works for her and she gets books done - that's what counts. I have another good friend who is a writing machine, and she doesn't plot at all. She comes up with an idea and some general character ideas and she sits down to write and the story spins out under her fingertips.

None of us are doing it wrong, we are doing it right - for us. Don't let anyone tell you that X is the gospel of how to write, I don't care what it is. Everyone is different, their brains work differently, their work styles and comfort levels are different and we all can't be neatly compartmentalized into the same box. This same logic goes for "writing rules" which I hate. For every writing rule which states, you can NOT do X or you'll never sell, I've seen people break it successfully. Just make sure you know the rule well so you are breaking it on purpose and not accidentally!

Well, there's my wisdom for the day. I'm off to work on my WIP. If you want something steamy to read to perk up your weekend, head on out to my newest release - Ceremony of Seduction, written as Cassie Ryan. You can find it in any of the brick and mortar stores and in most places they are face out with my steamy cover :) Just be forewarned, it's a VERY hot book. So, if you like that - go grab a copy and I'll go finish up the sequel. :)



Erin the Innocent said...

Well I'm neither a plotter or a pantser *s* I'm a reader. I've got your new book on my TBB list! I just recently moved and the reality of just how many books I own that haven't yet read has been smacked upside my head, as I had to carry them all into the new place. Books are heavy lol.

As soon as I stop feeling guilty for buying so many books that I haven't read I'll be going on another shopping spree. *s* I don't anticipate that taking too long though. I'm a book-a-holic!

nascarandbeans said...

Like erin, im a reader, but i imagine that every writer has to experiment to find what works best for them.. every person has a unique personality, so their books have to reflect that.. I loved Stone Maiden, i would love to read more of your books soon.. Jolene

Mom said...

I'm in your boat Tina. I can't plot out every detail, and I can't be "mapless" either. I've found writing a short synopsis (5-10 pages) really helps me. I can get off course, but I still know where I'm going. And if I lose my way, its there in my synopsis.

Anonymous said...

I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants.

I have this horrible habit of submitting before I finish the manuscript. Of course, everyone wants a synopsis when you submit. I'll do the synopsis, mail off the submission, then I'll throw out the synopsis and write the rest of the story.

N.J.Walters said...

I'm in between a plotter and a panster. I have character sketches and know the main conflict and possibly a few scenes. Once I have the opening scene set in my head I start writing and see what happens from there. :-)

Carol said...

Hey, Tina. I’m still not quiet sure if I like being a complete plotter or a pantser. I think I do best with a bit of both. Like Mom, I like a bit of a synopsis, which I can later change if I want. Also, if I have the character’s motivations, goals and the story conflict I'm pretty good to go. There’s times though, that if I don’t do any plotting, I’m liable to get the dreaded writer’s block.

Lucinda Betts said...

Hey Cassie:

I have to say that my path looks the same as yours. Although I wrote about 9 stories for Kensington before I started to try advanced plotting. (Which is a funny word for it because all I did was write a 5-page synopsis!) I deviated from the synopsis in the first chapter, crumpled up the synopsis and winged it. I kept the kernel idea though.

Your Ceremony of Seductions is fantastic! Congratulations!

TinaGerow said...

Thanks Erin. I feel your pain, my husband remembers moving all my books and I have more since then, I think that's why he said we are staying put! Hope you enjoy Ceremony of Seduction!

Thanks Jolene - I'm hope my Maiden series is resold soon and back on the market. I'm glad you enjoyed them! :)

Mom - I usually can't write the synopsis until I'm about halfway through the book. And even then, mine are bare bones - 2-3 pages. I'm glad you found a system that works!

Ann - I like the throw out the synopsis part! :)

N.J - Your style sounds about where I'm at right now. It may change yet again, but for now it's wroking :)

Carol - ACK! Don't get writer's block! That stuff sucks.

Lucinda - I'm so glad you enjoyed Ceremony of Seduction! :) It's always nice to hear. I keep expecting Kensington to call me up, demand their advance back and say, "Nope, just kidding." LOL. Aren't we writers neurotic?

Thanks everyone for the great comments! Off to work on the WIP!

Laurie said...

It always amazes me that people can turn out great manuscripts either way -- I can't IMAGINE being a pantser, but I know a lot of pantsers whose books I adore. (They say the same thing about mine. :) Talk about mysterious!

Laurie, who always starts with the synopsis

Mechele Armstrong said...

I'm a mix of the two. I plot out the big stuf but usually the characters toss me a curve ball or two.