Sunday, November 1, 2015

Sunday Musings: Pants or Plot

Happy November, Musers!

Hope your Halloween night went well.

Can't believe it's November already and the starting date of Nanowrimo. Which partially prompted today's Musings: Do you plot or pants?

For those who think I've lost my mind (more than usual) this is the short form of asking a writer if they plot out their story and chapters or write by the seat of their pants. Plotter vs Pantser.

Let's get musing!

I've always just gone with the flow...pantser. However, since I've started plotting out the monthly musings and other blog topics, I think I might give it a shot with my own fictional writing.

I am definitely pants. I get a sentence in my head and write it down and then write the first chapter. After I have written the first chapter I go back and develop my characters. I find out everything I can about them and what is the most important thing they want to do. After that the story just goes and there have only been a few times when I had to stop and plot. Usually these times were when the logistics of a scene need to be gone through step by step so locations make sense. Otherwise I just write from start to finish and almost never know my ending until I am about three quarters through and even then it may change. I end the story when I can’t think of anything else to write.

I'm a pantser. I start with a general idea and run from there. If the characters are strong enough, they create their own story, I'm just the means in which they come through. ;)

I'm a little of both. First I get an idea and then I develop it on paper with possible ideas of where it can go. I also make character sketches of the characters I know will be significant to the story. Nothing is written in ink however and if the story takes a turn, I'll usually follow.

I generally have an outline that hits the high points of the story -- beginning, major plot points, end -- and sometimes notes on the scenes up to the first plot point. The notes aren't detailed. There are lots of things I don't know until I write them. I consider myself somewhere in the middle between a plotter and a pantser, because I could never generate the detailed kind of outline plotters work from.

By the time I reach the end of the first draft, I know what I'm writing about, and I will go back and revise with that in mind. iThere is a clear trade off, in my mind, between time spent up front plotting and time spent on the back end editing. I'm sure I put in more time editing than my plotter friends. But this is what works for me.

My first HOT story was a seat of the pants as I rushed through my first attempt at erotic. However, I've now started to plot/plan out the year's worth of short stories (offering as bundles as they are shorts) I'm more excited about writing these because I have that story idea down on paper. Maybe I'm learning to be more organized or making the chaos a teeny bit streamlined, anything to get the writing on paper, right.

For a novel I generally start with a fairly large dose of plotting with an idea and its context. Then I build my main character sketches, the roles they will play, in outline the journey they’ll make and approximately where they’ll end up (approx two pages of notes). I often write a one page synopsis (such as you’d send to a publisher) at this pre-writing stage. The other thing I do is any research I know I’m going to need to make the context feel authentic. Only then do I begin writing the action and dialogue. Did you ever have one of those make-it-yourself paper theatres as a child? You constructed the stage, maybe coloured it in, cut out the figures, stood them in position, moved them around and made up a script. It’s a bit like that. I generally don’t stick rigidly to my synopsis because something will change—maybe I realise that character wouldn’t do/say that, or maybe I introduce another minor character I’d not thought of before, or the original idea may develop in directions I’d not considered when I started. Or the dynamic between two characters leads the story in directions you’d not anticipated at all. I’m probably 2/3rd plot and 1/3rd pants. However, in the few short stories I’ve written I think I operate the proportions the other way about, even to the extent of starting with a single sentence and seeing where it goes.

Plotter or pantser...good question.

Personally I do both. As I write multiple series, there has to be some form of plotting going on so they match in those respective areas. But when it comes to the individual stories themselves, those are strictly by the seat of my pants. No amount of plotting gets those things moving in the direction I want, as (for me) the characters are the writers of the tales, I'm just the utensil they used. I learned that lesson years ago and found that if I just took the idea (two people being stranded in a cabin during a thunderstorm) and let it go from there things moved along a LOT faster. Instead of me planning out their every move and action or reaction. I honestly don't know how to write any other way.

This may be late in submitting, but I am a pantser. I fly by the seat of my pants, as surprised as the reader when my characters behave the way they do. I have all the respect in the world for those plotter/writers who can begin a novel by defining how many pages in each chapter, use math equations to determine which characters show up in which scenes, and so on. I can't do it. Once, I wrote a (speculative fiction) novel about this young man and woman who fought and loved their way to the discovery of a wormhole. However, on page 80 or so, these two ten-year olds showed up, unannounced and unexpected, and stole the novel right out from under the romantic duo.

Many a pre-dinner discussion has begun in my household, where I open the chat with "Hon, you'll never guess what my characters have done today. I couldn't believe it, when I started writing..."


Definitely pants for me.  I know what's going to happen and I know my characters, but otherwise I work the story in my head and write as I go.  I don't even do formal chapter breaks, allowing the tale to break naturally.  The closest I ever came to an outline was with FIRE PLANET.  That involved an actual historical volcanic eruption, and I had to work my tale in conjunction with the timeline and events of the eruption.  It was an interesting exercise.

I am usually a plotter, for it can take me years to write a book. (Definitely a plotter, then, you say.)

However, for the past seven years during the month of November, I'm most certainly a pantser. I only have a general idea of my plot and story while I pound out 1,700 words per day. The interesting thing I find about being a pantser is that every once in a while a brilliant twist or new character pops up. I usually am a NaNaWriMo winner, but I also usually end up deleting 3/4 of what I wrote. But the actual story is finally well on its way!

I'm a plotter. I brainstorm characters and scenes in a notebook. Chosen scenes go on index cards so I can mess around with the order. Satisfied with the outline, I write. I sound so organized and efficient (I hardly recognize myself) but I've learned something about being a plotter. Keep plotting! For me, it's more than a tool for writing the first draft. If an exciting plot twist comes to me during second draft or my edit stage, I can't resist using it. The changes seem minimal at first, manageable and reworking my index cards or outline feels like a waste of time. Huge mistake. Trying to keep the changes in my head creates more work, takes longer to finish and makes me want to hit a wall.

Now I know and vow--cross my heart--to adjust the outline (to the end scene) with any new twist.

My ideas for the theme and plot of historical novels originated in non-fiction books that I read. For example, the idea for Tangled Love grew after I read that James II, brother of Charles II, became king people disliked him as a man, his Roman Catholic religion and his politics. Eventually circumstances forced him to flee the country, after which first his daughter, Mary and her husband, ascended to the throne and, after their deaths, his daughter Anne became queen. Some noblemen, who swore allegiance to James, refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the new monarchs during his lifetime. How, I asked myself, would this affect their children. From this a rough idea for the plot developed.

Before I write a novel I choose the main characters' names. To get to know them, I fill in very detailed character profiles.

When I write a novel I like my characters and events to surprise me so, although I have an outline of the plot in mind, it is not a detailed one.

My writing is a hybrid process. Pure strict plotting and outlining would be too rigid for my style but I can’t begin at all without something planned. The important thing is that we all do what works for us and just write.

 I do a rough (very rough) outline of the major story points in one of my spiral notebooks (we’re rocking The Avenger’s theme this round). From my rough outline, I make note of things requiring research: when will it take place, what is the weather like, where will it take place, any major events going on, how does it mesh with my other works? I do the initial research I know I’ll need and start working on the maps I’ll be using. I start with Google maps and customize from there. For a novella I will work with my notes from the outline. For a full length book, I move events to 3x5 index cards. I put them in a rough order to begin with. As I write, if I use one of the events, I note on the card the story date and time of day. I update my calendar as I go to avoid little continuity glitches – like missing entire days. This stage is really the only writing I do longhand. Everything else is typed.

Now, for all my good intentions, sometimes (okay, nearly always), the characters don’t jump exactly the way I’d expected. Now I’m pantsing. I still have my outline but some of the cards get put aside and new cards get added. In my side book to Forging Day, I didn’t know I was going to have a chimp in the story until it happened. He certainly wasn’t part of my plan. My best indication that I’m pantsing in the wrong direction is when I get my version of writer’s block. When I fix the bit that isn’t true to the characters I’m back in business.

I have heard people talk about writing a specific scene but not necessarily writing the scenes in chronological order. I honestly don’t know how they pull that off unless they are the strictest of plotters. Until I see what my characters did on Wednesday, for example, there’s no way I can write a scene on Sunday that won’t be missing something important because I skipped a week.

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at

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