Tuesday, November 12, 2013

To Pants or to Plan? That is the Question...

What kind of writer are you? Are you a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer? Or are you a plan-every-single-detail kind of writer? In reality, most people sit somewhere in the middle.

My personality is such that I am an organizer...much to my husband's chagrin sometimes. I'm getting better at not getting so uptight when the flow doesn't go according to plan, but I still find I need to schedule things or they don't happen. When it comes to my writing, however, I've found I have to let both aspects participate to get the best product possible.

Because of the advantages and disadvantages of both "pantsing" and "planning," a combination of the two approaches works best for me. From bad experience, I have found that if I don't at least plan the major plot points along my storyline, my story is unfocused, which means it requires A LOT more work in revision. I don't have a clear character arc, which makes my character inconsistent; nor do I have a clear plot arc, which means I have to cut a lot of events which are really boring to the reader (no matter how cool I think they are). My character arc in particular really suffers because there's no clear development of understanding in my character; instead, she bounces all over the place.

But if I plan every single detail, I lose a lot of the excitement of writing. It becomes an exercise rather than a creative process. So I have to let loose a little too. For me, that means I know that my character starts at Point A, and will eventually hit Point B, but I don't really know how or when she'll get there. That process is where my character gets to reveal herself to me a bit more. (Points in the story continuum, for me, are usually critical events for the development of the plot and/or character.) I'm still fascinated by the times when I am writing a conversation, and I get to the end of the conversation, and my character has made a discovery or understood something completely differently than what I thought she would. Those moments are always fun because the scenario has come alive, and I think the progression of events is more realistic and natural to the character.

The other day, however, I basically "pantsed" a whole story, which I never do. I had a basic concept, essentially the climax. But I had no idea how to turn it into an actual story. For weeks I cogitated on it, but the most I could get was a snippet of an opening scene. Really just an image. I went to a write-in where I had to write something for a set period of time. I didn't have anything really to work on at the moment, so I started the story. I wrote that opening scene and then followed the logical progression of events. As I wrote, the whole story unfolded before me perfectly. No matter how much I had tried to plan, I really just needed to write.

So try something new. If you're a pantser, try to plan a story. If you're a planner, try to pants one. It doesn't have to be anything long; but you just might find a combination of the two that actually works better for your writing process.