Plotter vs. Pantser

A couple of weekends ago, I presented at a SCBWI regional conference. During an authors' roundtable, the topic of plotters vs. pantsers came up. That is, do you outline your novel or write it by the seat of your pants? I forget how many raised their hands for each, but the bottom line, we decided, was that you really do the same amount of work either way.  Plotters do the majority of work up front; pantsers do it in the revision process.

I'm decidedly a plotter when it comes to writing novels. (I do pants short stories, though.) However, as I was listening to how some other authors approached the business of getting published, I realized I had been a complete pantser in that regard. One particular author (cough, Beth, cough) talked about her very methodical approach to querying. She had an actual plan and goals!

I, on the other hand, have to admit I sold Memento Nora by the seat of my pants. After I'd written (and workshopped) it, I attended the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI regional conference and then subbed MN to three of the four editors who'd been on a panel. My current editor was one of those panelists. Don't get me wrong. I love working with her and the good folks of Marshall Cavendish. I just mean that I totally lucked out!  But then I had to do some work (play catch-up) in regards to getting an agent and learning about the business.

So moral of the story is that whether you're a plotter or pantser--in writing or business--you still got to do the same amount of work, just at different stages of the process.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? In which areas?


Leigh Ann said...

I am a TOTAL pantser, which is uncharacteristic of me in the rest of my life. I think that's because writing is my escape, at least for right now. Maybe if I get an agent, I'll become a plotter.

Anyway, I think that's right on the "amount of work" front. My (plotter) critique partners get so excited for me when I tell them I'm about to finish a first draft. Bless them. They have no clue what a disaster it is.

B.E. Sanderson said...

At first I was a pantser and then I was a plotter. A few years back I realized I'm a plansterer - plot a little, plan a little, pants a lot. It works for me. I never thought about how I approach my submissions, though. In that respect, I guess I'm a plotter. I even have a database I created to track queries and I cross reference it with QueryTracker.

Angie Smibert said...

Plantser! Love it!

Anonymous said...

Given that I'm more hard core, workaholic, and over-organized than nearly everyone I know (and having gone to MIT that includes a lot of anal folks) I would have assumed I plotter.

But when I got into it a couple years ago I found I totally prefer to just go with it. I do need to plot a chapter or two ahead as I can't write the scenes until I see in my head what's going to happen, but after I finished revising my first novel (and there was a lot of revision) I decided to try to plot the whole second. This resulted in like two months of head banging. Then with like a third plotted I started writing and it veered onto a different course anyway. The characters and the situation seem to dictate what happens. Often you can't tell in plotting which secondary characters will be the coolest, etc.
But certainly the pantser approach requires plenty of revision. I always have to go back and examine the motivations of the characters after the first draft and map a bit more of the formal dramatic arc onto the story in the second and third drafts. I think that's just the way it goes. It would be very difficult in the first draft to do the kind of "setup and payoff" that good stories have. A great example of this is the film Back to the Future which undoubtedly had umpteen drafts and where every little reference at the start of the film is a setup that tests and then pays off for one of the characters. That takes a lot of crafting. But I think you can start any which way that works for you.

Marcia said...

I'm an organized pantser. I've come to realize that writing the first draft IS how I outline. For better or worse, I also write pretty slowly, so that draft isn't in such terrible shape when it's done. If I just did or am about to take a major wrong turn, I know because the book seems to stop in its tracks.

Bane of Anubis said...

Yep, like B.E. I'm a plantser (though I prefer Plotser, though that might be a bit too close to poser :)... outlines that end up getting flooded with extra conflict... lots of early chaps follow my marching orders, but the last tend to go a bit awol.

In terms of non-writing components, have SWAGged it pretty much all the way and managed to luck upon the jet stream.