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Plotter or Pantster – It’s a Sliding Scale


Welcome to today’s edition of Lecture Amie.  Read the sign and remember, you’re parked in the Gibbons lot 😉

It’s decided, I can not be a pantster to save my life.  I’m a planner.  I’ve got this general idea for Patenting Magic, but nothing really specific besides the romantic back story that is merely the set up for the subplot conflict in the book.

I’m only 200 words behind my CampNano daily word goal so far, but that’s just because I had the general idea for the beginning too.  Everything after this for how the story will unfold is kind up in the air.  And that leads to a lot of time staring at a computer screen and a lot of drunken cat plots wandering off into the woods to never be seen again.

So, before this can go any further, I’m going to have to sketch this out, flush out some major plot points, develop the conflict a bit more,  Some people just sit down with an idea for a theme, character, first scene, whatever, and just write and see what comes out.

That’s how I started my first book and I’m still trying to shepherd all my little drunken cats back to the trail, so I should’ve remembered straight up pantsting doesn’t work for me.

This leads to a couple of interesting questions for you other writers to consider.

1) Are you a plotter or a pantster?

This is a bit of a misleading question, nobody is one or the other, all of us have a bit of both.  It’s a sliding scale, not two different boxes.  It’s kind of like saying nature vs. nurture.  It’s not either or, it’s both and how they influence each other.  So what you classify yourself as really depends on where on that scale you fit.

Do you have to have a synopsis all ready to go and sketched out plot points before you write much past the first chapter or do you just write and see what comes and sketch out future plot points that occur to you?

In trying to pound something out the first day of CampNano, I did come up with an underlying magical conflict to weave into the main plot where the characters are trying to defeat an anti-magic bill in Congress.  It just came to me as the MC was walking to her car after a conference, and I think it works.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this, I’ve gotten lots of great ideas after starting the book/short story and tied them in to create layers or even an entirely new plot.  So I’ve got some pantsting in me.  It’s just… the pantsting is not strong with this one 🙂  I do much better with a main plot, mostly with points I need to hit sketched out, so I have a clear string to pull me along through the story and to go back to when I’m not feeling particularly creative or inspired.

Leading to the next question.

2. Write to become inspired or be inspired to write?

I’m strictly in the camp of you write.  Whether you feel like it or not, whether it’s a good day, whether you’re brain dead.  You write.  Because the more you do it, the more “in shape” you become and you get inspired more and more.  If you’re waiting for inspiration, you’re going to be waiting a long time.

I spent all of law school doing practically no writing because I was working my brain’s ass off and was tired at the end of the day.  If I had spare time, like on holidays, I’d pull up some old story and read through it, or jot down an idea here or there, but when I tried to actually write, it dragged and it felt like a waste of time.  So I’d put it away and tell myself I’d go back to it later.

Later turned out to be about four years.  See?  I have to make myself write to stay at it.  It’s like working out.  You do it, you suck it up, you get through that impossible first week where you’re weak and can’t lift or jog for shit, and you feel like you’re wasting your time.  Because that’s how you build yourself back up.  Once you’re back into the habit, it’s a lot easier.

And sometimes even after you’re back into it, it’s hard.  After an extremely not-productive 2nd day of CampNano, I was grumbling to my boyfriend and he said don’t write if you don’t feel like it, you have to be in the mood and be inspired to be creative.

Now, before you start jumping up and down, saying he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about, he’s got the creds.  He’s made a career out of his art.  He does photography, writes editorial articles for magazines, and creates advertisements.  He’s an artist down to the stereotypical absentmindedness and hummingbird attention span.  Definitely more of an artist than logical little ‘ol me.

Most writers I’ve talked to, in real life or online, all say the same thing.  Write.  Do it every day, every other day, whatever, but write.  Make it into a habit, push yourself through your tired, uninspired days, and just do it.  Because if you wait for inspiration or for the words to be perfect, you’ll never write.  Most writing careers end where they begin.

So I explained all this to my boy and he came back with, on those days when you’re not inspired, why don’t you just sketch out what will happen?  Don’t try to put down any coherent words, just ideas, where you’ll want to describe a setting, generally what happens at a plot point, the overall character arc.

And I realized, my boyfriend’s a plotter.  That’s where this second question ties into the first.  If you’re a plotter, you’re going to write better, be more inspired and plain write faster in general if you’ve got stuff outlined.  If you have a plan to go back to.  He wasn’t saying just don’t do anything if you’re not feeling it, he was saying get into it by planning it out.

So, if you’re one of those people who waits for inspiration to strike before writing, ask yourself why.  Are you really not feeling it?  Do you just not want to?  Maybe you’ll never make it as a writer then.  But if what you mean is you just get lost and don’t know where to go, so you sit until you’re unstuck, then try digging yourself out by a little pre-plotting.

If you’re feeling uninspired, you might just be stuck.  So open a new doc or pull out the old, dusty notebook and start sketching plot points.  Doesn’t have to be pretty or organized, just what you want to happen to move the plot forward.

I’m going back to my last post on the hero’s journey now.  Where does your character get the call to action?  When does she decide to take it up and fight?  What challenges will be thrown at her?  When does she hit the low point, where there’s almost nothing left to lose?  What does she do to climb out of the abyss, as in, what transformation does she have to make?  This is usually where the lesson lies.  And what is the big last battle?

Answer those questions, even if it’s one sentence, or just one word.  You might find yourself more inspired than you thought you were.

Happy Writing!

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