Pantser vs Plotter

I am (what has become known in the industry as) a “pantser”. I write because I, too, want to know what’s going to happen. This has given me the greatest freedom and the greatest headaches.

When I was younger, I followed my imagination wherever it wanted to go. It didn’t matter if I knew anything about my subject, I made it up as I went along. This is probably why I chose the fantasy genre.

In middle school I filled copious notebooks with what was later termed “fanfic”. I had a crush on a music group, and my friends and I got to know them quite well. Realism didn’t spoil it. If they wanted to blow off a concert tour to spend time with their number one fans, they did (and no sledge hammers were involved). Yes, we played MASH, too…all those lists and spirals to make that magic number which determined our fate. I married Bill Pullman once. I think we had an apartment.

Now that I’m ancient, I know better, and this has restricted my creativity. I have a very strong Inner Editor who sits on my shoulder, and tsk tsks many of my ideas out of existence.

In August 2010, I attended an author panel about outlining. I previously avoided this because I thought it meant making the type of outline I’d learned in school – who wants to do that?

Instead, this author explained that an outline was basically shaping the story with a flexible road map. Like a AAA TripTik©, it shows the beginning and the destination with (interesting) points along the way. The path is not set in stone (detours often happen), and you can determine how long it takes to get there by the number of stops (scenes) you make. Best of all, it makes it easier to summarize the novel.

I’ve since learned about the 3-Act structure and how to apply it to my current book. And here’s the secret – If you want to craft a satisfying story, you have to build it around this structure in some form or fashion.

Have you ever read a story that just…ended? Ugh. There’s no resolution; no answers. It’s just left hanging for the sequel. This is not a satisfying story. Even serials have resolution. Star Wars, Harry Potter, Hunger Games… They all work because each movie/book resolves a conflict and answers major questions while leaving room for the sequel – which ties it all together.

I realize now that even pantsers arrive at a plotted outline; they just take a different route. Knowing that, I’m considering fully plotting the next book before I begin writing. We’ll see how that goes.


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