Stephen King rarely plots when he writes. He likes to create a “What if?” situation. Then, lets his characters travel that terrain and converse with each other as they move through the situation, along with the action. Of course, when he edits, themes emerge & he goes back and develops those themes in his writing. (He outlined his writing techniques mainly in “On Writing.”)
Other writers develop their plot, outline their story idea and develop back-stories of their characters to help the writer develop a response for the character. (There’s more to these, but this is the gist.)
What do you see as the pros and cons for each way of plotting for a story? And which do you prefer?
I’ve read a ton of posts about plotting versus pantsing. Some posts are very much in one camp over the other, some claim to be balanced (“do what works for you”) yet still show a bias towards one over the other, and a small handful truly are all for whichever method you prefer.
Let’s get this out of the way up front. I firmly believe which method is the best is going to depend on the individual. Different personalities* prefer different methods. It is up to each individual to figure out which method suits them
I’ve read work from writers who used the plotting method who ended up with a very tight but formulaic story. I’ve read work from pantsers that is, for lack of a better description, a hot mess. And I’ve read work from both camps that is brilliant.
So, if someone tells you one method is better than the other, or they say they’re equal but in the same breath bash one method, RUN. The bad advice cup runneth over.
Now, I am personally very comfortable in one camp, so a pro/con list wouldn’t be terribly accurate, so I will instead provide some observations on the two methods. [Readers: chime in on this point, since I know you all are varied in your methods, and will be able to provide valuable information on the method you choose to use.]
Plottskis (aka Plotters)
Probably the biggest pro of plotting is consistency. Since plotters have invested time (not to mention charts, graphs, story boards, post its, and other colorful office supplies) in outlining the story ahead of time, they are likely to catch, or avoid altogether, inconsistencies in the story.
This can apply to the characters as well. Their personalities have likely been clearly laid out, their role in the story defined, avoiding any instances where they might do something “out of character”.
This also tends to mean the editing process is smoother.
It could be argued that plottskis save time in the writing process because of their planning, but keep in mind that the more thorough the planning, the more time spent on the story at the beginning of the process.
Pantskis (aka Pantsers)
Pantskis let the story happen. This is not to say there is zero planning, just that their planning is more likely to involve daydreaming a scene rather than creating a flowchart.
Pantskis are often character driven. They don’t always know who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are in the story. They may start with an idea, but they tend to get caught up in the creative “flow” of writing, sometimes resulting in twists and turns they didn’t foresee.
For these reasons, one of the bigger criticisms of pantskis is the amount of editing they have to do at the end of writing their story. They have to weed out inconsistencies, sometimes entire scenes or characters that no longer make sense with the direction the story “decided” to take.
What am I?
I would likely be designated a Pantser. What Stephen King describes in “On Writing” is very much how I write. I sit down at the keyboard (or notebook – yes, I write both ways) and just go.
I tried the outlining method once, because I do believe that it is important for writers to find which method produces a better story, not just rely on the fact that the one they gravitate towards is right for them.
While I could still write a decent story, it was a painful process. The fun in writing (at least fiction) for me is in watching the story unfold. Outlining ahead of time killed that for me.
Now, I do want to be clear that I do think that planning in your storytelling is important. I may not like the idea of being a plotter, but I still think ahead.
For example, my Tell Me a Story series is a serial fiction where the readers get to contribute ideas that control what will happen next in the story.
That means I can’t really plot, even if I wanted to. Yet, I do have a plan. That plan is just very fluid. While I don’t have a story board full of index cards and colorful pretties**, I do have varying scenes bouncing around in my head. If I close my eyes, there is a clear image of who each character is, just not necessarily what they will do.
But, if my characters personalities weren’t clear in my mind, if a general landscape of the story didn’t exist, it would probably be a bit more difficult to write my story. So, in that way, there is planning involved.
I think what’s important for every writer is that they are honest with themselves about what kind of writer they are – and that they don’t necessarily need to define that.
Don’t be a pantser just because it sounds like less work. Don’t be a plotter because a book/blogger/teacher told you that it is the better way (don’t do anything just because a book/blogger/teacher told you it was the better way, for that matter). Take the time to figure out what methods make you better at what you do.
You may be firmly in one camp, or you may be a mix of the two. Your style may vary depending on what genre you are working with as well.
Don’t get caught up on defining what kind of writer you are. Just find what makes you write well (again, this requires being honest with yourself, which could be a whole other post entirely) and write.
Because really, that’s what it always comes down to, right?
*for the record, I am an INFP…I’d be interested to see if there is any correlation between personality types and writing methods
**can you tell that this is the aspect of plotting I am most jealous of? seriously, the magical trips to the office supply store stocking up on poster board, colorful pens, post its…sigh