Monday, February 20, 2012

Inside My Mind (Plots vs Pants)

Today, I'm going to give you a terrifying glimpse of my logic, as related to writing. How do I write? How do I decide what will happen next?

I am, on any given writing day, halfway between a plotter and pantser. Let's start by dissecting these terms:

Plotter: A writer who outlines the entire story before writing, who knows what will happen before she writes it and follows a carefully constructed plan, often down to knowing what each scene is and what will happen within it. (vb: to plot)

Panster: Short for "by the seat of my pants," an idiomatic expression meaning "making it up as I go." This writer has no plan. She may have carefully constructed characters, and a basic idea of where they're going, but what happens depends on the characters and will develop as she writes. She is, in essence, as surprised by the outcome of the story as the characters are. (vb: to pants [it])

Most of the things I've written so far have been carefully constructed through the first half of the book, but then I'll run out of plan and pants it from there. I'll usually have some idea of where I'm going, but not how I'm going to get there. In cases where I do have an idea of what I want my plot to be, it often changes because of who the characters are. Simply put, "he wouldn't actually do that, come to think of it," can completely rewrite the entirety of a story.

In recent times, I've begun filling the intercession not by the most logical move, but by the most dramatic one that can be backed by some form of logic. I won't make my characters do something suicidally stupid, but if I can come up with a conceivable reason for them to think that the most dramatic action is the most reasonable one, then I'll have them do it. If the most dramatic is just plain silly, I go with the second most dramatic instead, or on down the line until dramatic borders on reasonable. This is working better than my first plan: that I should go with the most sensible choice. Because, at the end of the day, I want to be excited by my own story. And when I choose sensible, I find myself getting bored.

Sometimes this means breaking my characters away from reality. But that usually turns out better, anyway, because after what I put them through, they should be falling apart around the edges. I would be. So I sketch out a basic outline of what I think will happen based on most recent circumstances, follow these to the logical conclusion to get the next proposed scene, and make a more-or-less outline.

(This outline usually has to be rewritten every fifty pages or so. I try to keep the outlines short.)

So far, this system is working out well. But I have to admit, I'd like try plotting. There's a notecard method I think I'll pick up at some point, just to give it a spin and see if it works better.

Every day I write, every story I start, I learn something new about writing, about myself, about what makes me better. So if I find something that works, I'll keep using it - but I'll still try something new, too. I don't ever want to stop getting better. Not even if - especially not if - I ever become a bestseller.

(Although, if I switch entirely over to plotting, I don't think I'll be able to resist making the joke, "Has anyone seen my pants?")

How do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you ever tried switching?

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