Plotter or Pantser?

I'm a pantser with hints of plotter. Generally, I find plotting a disaster and I get bored trying to write to a plot outline.
I will sometimes write a set of notes for what's coming up if the interleaving of plot threads is getting tricky or, as I am currently doing, I write a
"posthumous" plot outline if the editing/revision process gets tangled.
Sometimes I have a loose plot outline in my head, and might write a few notes on that if life is so busy I might forget what I was doing.
Moving towards plotting, but slowly.

I find that in the very least, knowing where I want to end up is useful, even if it's just a final scene or even sentence. I currently am inspired by something Ursula LeGuin said, which is to explore a world through the eyes of a character - so the story and theme is pretty much in place before I start, but in very general terms.

Then it's all about the process, or exploration - taking some wrong turns maybe, trying to find out what you're doing in a particular spot, aimlessly wandering about until you find out, then fix it later so it looks like it was meant to be that way.

But I'm always learning more so no method is set in stone.
Other times, yes, I have to back and do some rewriting. But that is what second (third, etc.) drafts are for.

just to clarify.
if in chapter 5 you realize your character should’ve gone left instead of right in chapter 4, and perhaps another character should have come with him instead of going home. What do you do?

Do you:
go back to chapter 4 and make the necessary changes and see it play out. Or movr forward and pretend these changes have been made.

Sometimes I try to move forward myself, but I feel that I need to see the scene through because they may have had a conversation that I need to hear.
>if in chapter 5 you realize your character should’ve gone left instead of right in chapter 4, and perhaps another character should have come with him instead of going home. What do you do?

You try things until you've tried them enough times that you solve questions like this in-process. My version of trying things is to think through the alternatives. What caused that realization in me in the first place? Am I really sure left is better? I've already written right. If thinking through left doesn't bring resolution, I'll outline it, which can be anything from a couple of notes to bullet points to a entire scene. I keep putting it down on paper until a resolution begins to come clear. Every once in a blue-speckled moon, nothing works. Both options seem possible. That's when I bull forward and just live with the decision until maybe Chapter 17 tells me I gotta back up. That's rare, but it happens.

>I need to see the scene through because they may have had a conversation that I need to hear.
Yeah, exactly this. When it's all in my head, everything seems possible, logical, equally compelling. When it gets down in actual words, that's when the strengths and weaknesses begin to appear.
A lot could depend on what type of writer you are...
if in chapter 5 you realize your character should’ve gone left instead of right in chapter 4, and perhaps another character should have come with him instead of going home. What do you do?
...,what I mean by that is whether you are a plotter who lays claim to writing everything perfectly the first time or someone who uses a series of edits to get to perfection.

I have heard of, though can't say I know any, persons who write once and always get it right the first time. I have to assume from this a plotter who etches everything in stone the first time and forges ahead unswerving.

Honestly I find that type of person a bit difficult to believe[that they exist].

I think it all boils down to how much editing you want to endure. How you edit might be up to you.

If it seems important enough I might go back right away and change that left turn; however based on where you are at the moment, things change, you might want to wait and see if a right turn is really going to work out that well.

It might turn out that the left turn was a more interesting story.
I've done both. In all cases, a certain amount of planning is required, but I have one series that took off in a direction I didn't foresee, and ever since, I've been playing catch up. The series keeps offering me more story lines to follow the more I write, and I tend to let the character's decisions come to me. If it looks interesting, I let them run free. If not, I drop it and then slash it in editing.

But in another series, I have a firmer hold on the plot and characters. The story is tighter, though the world more expansive, so I can plan it out better and know which plot I want to tell.

I believe the main difference here, was that my first series originally came from a short story that didn't have a lot to it when going into it. So it because hijacked by a particular character until in grew into something bigger than any one of them. The latter story came from a world in which I had done a lot of worldbuilding for an RPG.
An observation about plotting and pantsing. It's just my own experience, but perhaps it will resonate if not illuminate. And one necessary preliminary observation.

Prelim: not stated but usually implied is that plotting is not writing and that pantsing is. This may very well be true, or at least that they are two very different kinds of writing and that only the latter really counts--it's the writing of the actual story, after all.

A great deal of discussion is about the nature of these two activities, but we don't often talk about timing. Since I'm at the front end of my new novel, and since I have three others done, I think I can say I'm seeing a pattern. I start out planning. The amount and exact character varies and isn't relevant here.

At some point in the process, my planning starts to include me writing more than what kinds of animals live on this island, how a dragon flies, or whether my elf has blue eyes or grey. ;) I start writing descriptions. I write forks in the plot, just to see how each possibility might play out. I describe the friends of the MC. Most often of all, I write clips of dialog. Some of this stuff might wind up in a scene somewhere, some might not.

Just now, the Red Faction steps forward and says "see? you're pantsing!" and they might very well be right. But the Green Faction counters with "no, because see over here he has a file called Chapter One, and none of those fragments are in it. He's started anew, and all that stuff was planning."

What I've observed is that it's a bit like a teeter-totter (hey all you non-Americans, what's that called in your culture?). At one point the board is tilted all the way over to one side. It slowly tilts toward the other, and one day I wake up and I realize, hey, I guess I'm writing the novel now. But even when it's tilted all the way in the other direction, there's still micro-planning that goes on. (bouncing that teeter-totter was half the fun, yah?) Even far into editing, I might have to rewrite a scene or add a chapter.

IOW, there is no dichotomy here. We do both. We all do both. We do both in different ways, in different proportions, and these will change from one project to the next, at least over the course of our early works.

To put it still another way, if there were a clear answer, if everyone one said This not That, would it matter? Why not press forward with however it is you work, without regard for how others work? Sure there's a certain element of professional curiosity, but beyond that, it really comes down to what you put down when you sit down.
that really resonates @sknox , at the moment I am essentially planning by writing stuff that may well be included in the first draft.
It's called a seesaw in parts of the US, too. In California, which is a sort of melting pot due to so many people moving west over the last century or more, I've heard it called both: teeter-totter and seesaw.

I often write scenes and chapters out of order, as they occur to me, not sure if I will actually use them in the manuscript, but stored away in file folders because I suspect they have some information in them that will be useful to me somehow, and sometimes I do use them, or large parts of them. I can't exactly call that planning ahead, because I don't have definite plans for those bits, but it is, sort of.

I have known writers who said they only ever wrote a single draft. The one who said he always got it right the first time I have never been sure if I believed him (that is, whether I believed that he felt it was always right the first time--others might have a different opinion of whether he got it right at all--or whether he was joking, which I wouldn't put past him). The other was a writer I respected too much to doubt—and also she was so prolific it didn't seem possible she could have the output she did and write multiple drafts of everything--but then she went on to explain that she might go back while still in the midst of that first draft and change direction if what she was writing wasn't working. She was talking about short fiction at the time, though, not novels.
I write in sequence and edit as I go, which makes me painfully slow, but means the final manuscript is usually in good shape. I only write at the weekend - when I can - so this method helps me maintain momentum. The 'finished' draft still needs a lot of fine tuning, of course, but the structure is solid and I can get it so submission standard fairly quickly.

I've tried writing out sequence, but I find it easier to write towards unwritten scenes than completed ones.
There are examples of successful one-draft writing. Georges Simenon is my standard example. I think there's an interview with him somewhere where he talks about his method. As I recall it, he wrote a book in six weeks. Then took several months off. Then a period of time I don't remember when he started thinking about the next one. Then sit down and pow! He turned out a ridiculous number of detective novels.

Isaac Asimov is another example. He did some revision, but he was pretty much a one-draft writer as well. I think his output was something on the order of 250 books. Yeesh.

Final example is Ray Bradbury writing Fahrenheit 451 in something like nine days. He had a short story with the same core idea already published. He turned it into a novel specifically as an experiment to see what would happen if he approached writing a novel the same way he did a short story--just sit down and do it.

It's things like the above that pretty much defines talent for me. Some people are simply born with a gift.
That would be more like genius: If they write with no need to edit...
It's things like the above that pretty much defines talent for me. Some people are simply born with a gift.
...however we are talking established traditionally published author and I think that it's possible to knock of a novel in nine days and not realize how much editing went into the final before publishing. So when they say they got it correct the first pass through, I'd be suspect that they left off how much work their editor and publisher had to do.
I can't plot. At all. The instant I sense where the story is going I seem to grind to a halt. That doesn't mean that I can't write something that ties a lot of threads together, rather they come organically.

Now, I've never finished a full novel, but I have quite a few longer pieces written but they mostly end once I begin to feel penned in to the plot.

Take a 50k story that I got to about the middle of the book (I think). I wrote every single line as it came to me in sequential order, occasionally tossing in worldbuilding when it would help the scene. The setting was eurocentric medieval (surprise, surprise) in the aftermath of a Black Death level plague. I researched what happened to society after that real world event so I did have an understanding of various effects. I ended up throwing in a quick paragraph on a (non militant) revolutionary group fighting (whining) for better wages and more rights now there were more jobs than people to work them. Instead of info dumping I just had one of my POV characters wearing a small pin they use to show support and had the other POV mock him for wearing it just to get a girl. That was it. No other plans. Then nearly at the end of where I reached, a young idealist they recognised as a member through some of his phrases was able to help them out of a small jam, and I started getting more long term ideas about the group and their place in the story.

That was just the smallest example and in fact nearly every subplot ended up tying into the main in some way. It was at that point I realised where it was heading and just sort of lost interest. I was more than happy with the direction, I just struggle to write knowing I have to guide the characters to a specific point. I much prefer them to act and react to whatever nasty twist I am thinking about at the time.
I came across this article today (I read it while at work, so shh don't tell anyone ;))

It's a cheat sheet of various plot formulas, but also gives a few reasons why plotting is not such a bad idea.

The article includes the following:
  • Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula - Michael Moorcock is a fan of this, so it can't be too bad
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Nigel Watts’s Eight-Point Arc
  • Dan Wells’s 7-Point Plot Structure
  • The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson
  • The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
  • The New & Improved Gary Provost Paragraph
  • The Anatomy Of Story: 22 Steps To Becoming A Master Storyteller By John Truby
  • The One Page Novel By Eva Deverell (The author of the article)

The article also includes plot catalogues and the famous 36 dramatic situations.

Quite a useful little resource and a good starting point. IMHO

Right, I'm off to write a novel in three days using Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula.
I've just come across this guy and his 31 functions of narrative structure

There is a piece of software out there called Storymaps which is a free story planning and writing application for children.

"StoryMaps is a graphical story planning and writing application for children that breaks down the elements of traditional fairy tales into building blocks, following Vladimir Propp's plot functions.

With StoryMaps children can easily create their own stories: selecting the plot cards with the story cards, creating a story map and writing their own story using a text editor. Once finished, the application can be used to export the story into HTML format."

I found it for Linux
I'll use it for next month's 300 worder. Bound to be a winner ;)
I'm a complete pantster. I can't understand how anyone can plot tightly and still tell a story that has life and breathes naturally. :)

Anyhow, my process. I get an idea, normally a 'what-if' idea. I muse on it quietly for a period of time - could be a few days, a month, or even years. At some point, a character will turn up during my musings - or, sometimes, at first draft stage - and they'll be the person I start basing the story around.

Then I start with where I think the beginning is. Sometimes the beginning doesn't change, sometimes it changes many times. I write the story in a linear pattern. Sometimes, if I get a bit stuck I do some mind mapping to progress the next few chapters. Sometimes things stall and I go off and edit something else while my brain works out what it was trying to say.

Eventually I'll have a very loose first draft - which is, really, my planning document. Then the real writing begins when I tidy it all up, flesh out characters and scenes, remove all the bits where I've told myself the story and turn those into meaningful scenes. Then the beta/editing process goes on until I have a finished book. By then, it's hard in my mind and it's difficult to believe this wasn't always the story was going to be told, or that I had times when I wasn't sure of it.

Mostly, I think my subconcious knows what it wants to do and I mainly just facilitate it in doing so....
What Jo said...
They're different spokes of the same wheel. Pansters write a million words and pontificate away, dancing around an understanding of plot until they can intuit it without realising it. The plotter will have intricately woven arcs that follow fantastic convergences and divergences, they'll flow through their acts, hit their plot points, embody every beat, achieve every one of Truby's steps, and then realise that structure does not a story make. Slowly and surely the two will approach the same point from different angles.
Total pantser. Why? I learned very quickly that the book is actually written by the characters you create, their chemistry and interaction.
They constantly surprise you, creating plot twists that are ten times more interesting than anything you could draft out in advance.
The second surprise is that the result still follows a pretty robust arc.
There is a natural logic to story telling that is intrinsic to the process, your brain does it subconsciously, as you write. You don't need a map, plot points are reached organically.
One self imposed rule I try to stick to is to make all characters distinct from each other in both name and personality. Doing that offers you the richest palette.
You can create any canvas from space station to medieval England. Human behaviours are the constant that crosses all stories.
Anne Rice once said something like. "I start writing in the morning because I want to know what happens next."
I think that is the definition of the pantser.

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