Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Plotting (vs. "Pantsing")

There are two camps of writers, plotters and pantsers (defined as people who write by the seat of their pants). I fall pretty regularly into the pantser category, and yet I know enough to pay attention when my story is getting away from me.

The rules of writing tell you that you should raise the stakes for your characters as you write. Keep them off-balance, and some authors will actually paint their characters into corners to keep the story moving. It's a good way to force us as authors to manufacture solutions to problems. For me, that process seems much easier as a pantser. As I'm writing, I think things like "what would make things more difficult for this person right here?" Usually at the end of a chapter in order to draw you forward, keep you reading.

I'm moving ahead with the final installment of my Kundigerin trilogy, and because these characters are familiar to me, I keep running into "but my readers don't know this if they haven't read the first book or two," which puts me into a situation where I have to pass along information. Without proper planning and setting, that could stop a new reader dead in their tracks. It's called info dumping. And I have to admit that the first couple of chapters of a new book are the discovery stage for me - I need to get to know the characters and their situations. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries before I know what's happening and where they're going, what their journey is. In this third installment, I know who is at the center of the story, I know what is at stake, I know basically how it's all going to play out, but I'm short on plot points. How do I get from point A to point B? What are the roadblocks?

An overall picture is generally enough for me to keep moving forward. As I write, the characters take over, tell me their story, and I (evil author that I might be) look for ways to get in their way. Thwart them, give them challenges to face. Conflicts, speed bumps, what-have-you. And this is where I'm struggling with Book 3. If I bring in the antagonist too quickly, the novel turns into a novella. If I write the main conflict in the first three chapters, the book is over.

It's time to plot.

Plotting usually comes naturally to me. When I was dating my husband, we were watching one of his favorite television shows, and one I hadn't seen often. As I was watching, I think I said something to the effect of "that guy's gonna die." And my husband was shocked. "He can't die. He's a major character in the show!" Guess what? He died. The script had been written well enough to foreshadow the event, and as a plotter myself, I could see it coming. When I'm off my game, when the plotting doesn't flow, there is a Plan B. Sit down and outline where you're going. One of my writing partners uses a story board (in fact many authors do). That way you aren't writing aimlessly, but you still have the freedom to "shake it up" in case your characters show up to point you in another direction. An outline is a road map, but that doesn't mean you only have to take the highway. You can still travel the backroads, or take a detour, as long as you're traveling in the right direction.

Book 3 is Max's story (for those of you who have read Mist on the Meadow and Gathering Mist).
He's met a talented young woman who is going to get into all kinds of difficulties and has an unreasonable fear of cats. So if you'll excuse me, I have to outline exactly what's going to happen with the two of them along their journey so they can do their part in defeating the evil demon intent on wreaking havoc with the world.



  1. I've never been able to plan more than a couple of chapters ahead, although I do know the ending -- since I write romance and mystery, the romances have to end up with the HEA or promise of one, and my mysteries have to end up with the crime solved and the bad guy caught. I keep a tracking board that shows me where I've been, but I'm never 100% sure where I'll be going a chapter or 2 down the road.

    1. The detours and backroads are the surprises for me. If I can't see my end point, I tend to wander aimlessly.