Thursday, May 31, 2012

Plotting, Pantsing, and Doing Your Own Thing

Yesterday I posted a link to an interview with one of my favorite authors, Diana Gabaldon.  In preparation for Camp NaNoWriMo (which begins tomorrow), I've been thinking a lot about how a novel evolves lately.  The first three novels I ever wrote, I did so without any sort of formal plotting or outlining.  I wrote in chunks, scenes and chapters as they came to me, then went back and wove it all together as the theme emerged.

Then I learned about plotting and outlining and scene sketches, etc.  My next three books were outlined before I let myself start writing.  I did character descriptions, scene sketches, and writing exercises to prepare, then I wrote. 

I will admit that I found the plotting method to be faster and more directed.  However I am realizing that this kind of approach has caused a new dilemma for me.  I tend to get out the main points in a concise manner and then fall short on word count- the content is there, but it isn't as vivid and bright as I had imagined it.  In effect, the focus on plotting and planning has dried up my writing. 

I feel like the majority of advice out there recommends plotting, etc. for new writers.  Ms. Gabaldon's words, and her description of her writing process, reminded me that it's OKAY to not have everything all planned out. In fact, her description of her process and how she builds scenes from grains of inspiration- objects, emotions, a bit of dialogue- then weaves them all together later on sounds exactly like what I did with my first few books.  (Granted, I acknowledge that she is FAR more talented- I am in no way comparing my skill level with hers.)

I think that the focus on plotting has helped me to be more aware of elements that help with structure, however, I have decided that for the next novel I'm going to do things in a way that feels natural to me, rather than the way that I think I should do them.

My current WIP, which I will be finishing during Camp NaNoWriMo, is suffering from the desert effect I described above. So, I am going to give myself permission to throw the plot outline out the window and write whatever comes to me during the month of June.  When it's all over, I'll go back and see how the two compare.  Maybe with more freedom, I'll surprise myself with my creativity!

How do you write? Are you a plotter or a panster? What benefits do you see in each method?


  1. I, too, have done it both ways. I think I'm a bit of both. It's helped me immensly to sketch out characters in detail first, and also, doing a rough outline lets me know whether or not the idea is even worth a whole novel. I find having some of the details out of the way allows me to really dive into a scene and really hone my writing the first time out.

    I get pretty detailed, even writing scenes within the outline. On the other hand, I'll definitely go back multiple times and re-tool the entire thing - even the characters.

    So even though I know I'm most comfortable and effective when I plan, I also give myself the freedom to change and adjust as need be.

  2. Interesting thoughts....since I'm working on my first novel, I can't compare much in methodology. I am a planner but trying to keep it minimal, my outline is comprises of major scenes with just a note about the action. As I write, I allow for variances and adjust the outline as needed.

    My biggest challenge right now is creating a desert because I've done so much flash fiction since January. I love keeping my words tight and concise but now worry that I won't be able to write a whole novel!

    I hope to have my romance WIP first draft done by the end of July so I can tackle my mystery during the August Camp NaNoWriMo. I have no outline, only a whodunit and I don't know who that is. LOL!

  3. Proud pantser :) You shouldnt stress about planning to the point that it sways spontaneous reaction, I figure you know how your characters and your setting then you already have a mental plan :)


I'd love to hear your musings :)