Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On Being a Pantser or Plotter

Greetings, dear reader.  I hope all is well with you and your loved ones.

I feel as if I’ve been away too long.  I know I’m supposed to write in this bloggy thing a couple times a week, but I’ve been spending most of my free time working on the third story in my Riddle in Stone series.  The first book, Riddle in Stone, will be available February 26th, by the way (PLUG! PLUG! PLUG!)

At any rate, I’ve hit upon a bit of a snag with my current manuscript and it pertains to something I thought we’d discuss.

Let me begin by asking you this: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

When I first started writing seriously, somebody asked me that question and I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.  So let me explain.

A “plotter” is somebody who plots out the main storylines before they write the manuscript.  For example, they might have an outline of each chapter.  Or they may have notes on the “back story” of the primary characters.

A “pantser” is somebody who just writes without any clear thought as to what’s going to happen.  They might have a rough idea where things might end up or what might happen at certain points of the story, but a pantser never forces the story in that direction.  Things just happen.

I’m a pantser. 

I don’t like plotting because I think it ruins the story for me.  I get bored and I stop writing.  After all, I know what’s going to happen at every turn. Why should I want to keep working on it?

But as a pantser, I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen.  Everything is, more or less, a complete surprise to me and that motivates me to keep hammering away at the manuscript. After all, if I want to see what happens next, hopefully the people shelling out $2.99 for Riddle in Stone will as well.

What I really love about being a pantser is that a character may pop up and steal the show!!  For example, there’s a character in my series called Pond Scum (you’ll have to read the book to see why he’s called that) who literally popped his head in front of my main character, Edmund, and started talking.  I had no clue who he was or what he wanted.  He just showed up!  Now he’s Edmund’s side kick.  If the series sells well enough, I love to write a new series specifically for him.

The same was true for Edmund.  When I started writing Riddle in Stone (available February 26th PLUG! PLUG! PLUG!), I had no idea what I was writing about. I had this character, Edmund, and he just started walking down this road.  To where?  I had no idea. I had no story, no bad guys, and no clue what would happen.  I just wrote and the tale unfolded in front of me.

This, of course, is the source of my current problem. 

You see, I’m 204 pages into my third manuscript and I’m reaching the climax too early.

(NO TYPICAL MALE JOKES, PLEASE!  It happens to all of us from time to time! HONEST!!!!  It’s all the stress at work! STRESS I TELL YOU!!!!)

I want to hit the climax of the main storyline around page 300 and I’m nowhere near that. I’m afraid my manuscript is going to peter out well before it should.  Further, I can’t just “add” chapters or scenes without undoing the story that has naturally developed.  Adding chapters for the sake of length just ruins everything.  I hate that!  The story becomes contrived and artificial.

Unfortunately, this is the problem with being a pantser. 

As George Harrison said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”  Sometimes the road you start down is too short to make a full-length, 100,000 word novel.

So I will keep working with Edmund and Pond Scum and their mutual love interest, Abby, and their manic puppy, Becky.  Hopefully something will happen that will extend the story in a logical and pleasing way.  But if not…perhaps Riddle in Stone (available February 26th) will be a two book series!

So, what are all of you?  Are you plotters or pantsers?  And what issues do you have with being whatever you are?

Until next time…thanks for stopping by!


  1. Interesting thoughts Robert, It certainly opens up mine as to what category I fit.. Pantsay or plotting. You write well and I wish you much success with your book/s. - Jayne

    1. Thank you, Jayne. Though I'm not sure how well I write. We'll see won't we? Six days until Riddle in Stone in released.

      I wonder if people can be both a pantser and a plotter. I'm not sure how that would work.... Interesting thought though. Combining the best of both. But I suppose we are who we are and it's difficult to change.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I am similar to you in that I can't plot everything out. I tried it once, had a whole (boring) story planned out, and I just couldn't bring myself to write it (probably because it sucked). The facts are, I just can't come up with good ideas all at once like that. I come up with my best ideas along the way.

    That being said, I consider myself a sort of half-pantser, half-plotter, because writing with -absolutely- no idea of where I was going was what resulted in it taking me years to ever write an actual complete novel (I'd get partway through, realize that it wasn't going anywhere, give up and start something new).

    What I did with the book I just completed (FINALLY!!! THAT'S THE FIRST TIME I'VE EVER WRITTEN "THE END"!!) was I figured out the beginning and the ending, I knew what kind of character development I was looking for, and then I started writing. It helped to know where I was going whenever I got stuck. But I always come up with ideas for later on in the story while writing other parts, and because I'm incapable of skipping around, I write myself notes (sometimes whole dialogue sentences if that's what comes to me) and get to it when I get there.

    I like the surprise, too. Some of my most important characters/plot twists (actually, probably ALL of them) were things I just stumbled upon while writing. Sometimes I get frustrated when something is too flat and I feel like I SHOULD have a plan, but something exciting always happens when I start writing.

    I was going to mention for your problem that I think you should just write it as it comes to you for now, then go back later. I've had a few issues with my book now too where I knew a chapter was completely boring, but I trudged through it and when I went to rewrite (with no idea how to make it interesting) something AWESOME happened. You might find that happens with you, too, and you won't end up needing to PLAN chapters. Another idea is to look at your character development - for example let's say Protagonist A's big character flaw is a lack of confidence to defeat the villain. Maybe your climax is coming now (now thanks to you I can't write this without laughing) but Protagonist A isn't actually ready yet (or you might find you pushed him too fast to get ready and it's not natural), and then you don't have to add filler just as filler, but you can add something that challenges and builds his confidence (or whatever other flaw he needs to work on in order to be successful). That helpful at all?

    1. Hey Wish!! Good to see you! And congratulations on your first complete manuscript! Wow! It's a wonderful feeling, isn't it?

      I think you are right. I'm just going to keep writing without worrying about the page length and see what happens. I'm writing the epic battle scene right now. Perhaps it won't be that epic and more battle will come. I don't know.

      Any way, thanks for coming by! I hope everything is going well with you! I'd love to read your stuff. Let us know when you sell it!

    2. Ha, yeah well, I'm a long way off from that. But thanks for the confidence in me. :D

      Actually, seeing as I am in the editing process now, I would really love to hear the story in a future post of just how your book transformed into what it is now in between writing, pitching to an agent, and finally selling. I kinda feel impatient to get this edited so I can pitch it to agents, but at the same time I have a feeling it will never feel completely finished, and I'm hoping that (assuming I land one at all) I'll end up with an agent that is involved enough to help make suggestions to fix problems or make it better. How did you land your agent?

    3. That's how I feel...that the manuscript is never really completely polished. The publisher eventually had to demand it from me before I gave them the "final" version.

      I met my agent through an editor/writer friend of mine. She helped me with my first draft and told me to send a few query letters out. One of them was a friend of her's. Thankfully she liked it and agreed to represent it.

      Thanks for the suggestion for future topics! My manuscript has changed a great deal from the version I first pitched to agents until now. I'll try to address that next!

  3. I'm a pantser, but a little different from you. I don't begin my story until I know not just the main character(s) but also I have to have at least an idea of what the story itself is about. I don't just take a character and start typing. I often take a long time just thinking about each next chapter to write; I have to know what character needs to drive the scene and what major plot point happens, but that's all I really need to know before I start typing...then, like you said, magical things often happen and charactes and events will pop out of nowhere to make the story more fascinating than I ever thought it would be. The hardest thing for me is that for each of my novels I have never know the ending. That's tough to handle! But so far the endings have always come to me as I begin to draw close to them.

    1. I know what you mean about not knowing the ending. It is tough to handle.

      With my first book, I actually wanted to kill off my main character. But my agent said no and suggested that I figure out a way to make it a continuing series.

      I'm glad I listened to her. Edmund really develops throughout the other couple of books.

      But, as you say, finding an ending is a bit challenging. The ending has to make sense and tie up all of the loose threads. God only knows what's going to happen at the end of my manuscript.

      Thanks for stopping by Ted!! I hope all is well with you!

  4. Pantser, all the way. Oh my God, if I planned everything out, all of my characters would either snub me and turn their backs, or glower and say "Pfft, we aren't doing that. You're nuts," because that isn't the way the story is supposed to unfold. Lol! So much more fun to let the storyline play itself out, then shape it into something beautiful.

    And I guess you'd just answered my question. I'd forgotten when you said your book would be out. Now I know! :)

    1. Kimberly!!! Good to see you!

      And I know exactly what you mean. I can't imagine plotting things out. Like you said, the characters wouldn't like it. And I don't want to upset the characters!!!

  5. I am neither plotter nor pantser...I go more towards percolator, meaning I spend a great deal of time sort of plotting in my mind, completely thinking over the characters and the details before I actually do any writing, but the writing process itself is definitely that of a pantser.

    Also, I must say that I finished reading Riddle in Stone via NetGalley and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Pond is a great character, and I loved how Edmund developed through the story. I look forward to reading the second book.

    1. WHAT???? Riddle in Stone is available? Where? How?

      Thanks for buying it Danielle! I really appreciate it. And thanks for your kind words about it.

      When you're able, can you please write a review of it? Perhaps on Goodbooks? Also if you could spread the word about it on your social media I'd REALLY, REALLY appreciate it!

      Wow! You're my first reader! I should send you something!

    2. I meant Goodreads!!! http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17339738-riddle-in-stone?auto_login_attempted=true

    3. NetGalley allows reviewers (bloggers, librarians, etc) to snag advanced copies of a book in exchange for an honest review. Now, having read the book, I can say that I will be purchasing a copy and informing my friends of it as well.

      I will have the review on my blog and Goodreads by release day.

    4. Well, you are wonderfully kind, Danielle. I REALLY, REALLY appreciate the support. Please let me know when the review is up. I'll post a link to it.

      Thanks again!!!!