Monday, June 25, 2012

Plotting by the Seat of Your Pants

If you haven't entered my giveaway, make sure you swing by that post to leave a comment.

And now, onto your regularly-scheduled (late) post. Don't look at me like that. My internet was out yesterday.

The biggest reason I'm a pantster is because my stories intimidate me. As Ira Glass has written, there's a gap between what's in your head and what's on the page. It's that gap that paralyzes me. I think of all my previous failures, and I fear I'm going to let this story down, too.

Picture found here
In order to face the task of writing a whole book, I have to break it down. And I have to do it in a way that lets me take it a little bit at a time. I start with a concept, usually a character, and I have a vague notion of where I want to go from there. But, if I think too far ahead of myself, I get overwhelmed, and there goes my motivation.

I do think about the story, but a little bit at a time. I'm always thinking about the next cool scene I want to get to, not the ending, at least until I'm a few scenes from the ending. It helps keep me motivated, to know that the cool scene I want to write or the neat dialogue line I thought up will leave my head if I don't write it soon.

Sometimes, when I can't sleep or I'm bored, I'll play "what if?" with my story. I've come up with some of my most interesting plot twists on a long car trip, or while walking somewhere. If I come up with something good when I'm trying to sleep, though, that can backfire. Good idea or not, if I fall asleep without jotting it down, I'll forget, and then I'll be mad at myself.

That all makes it sound like my stories are sheer chaos, and they're not. My initial drafts are messy and I wind up cutting at least a third of the dialogue, but I am starting out with the core of a good story. That's what editing is for. And if you tell me you've met a writer who doesn't require editing, I'll call you a liar.

Instead of mapping out the whole story, I start writing, and I begin where the main character wants to begin. Sometimes that means I need to cut the first couple of chapters, but I'd rather write badly than not at all.

As much as I give myself permission to write badly just to get it out, I can't dwell on all of my mistakes as I'm writing. The inner editor has a purpose, but it needs to shut up long enough for the first draft to get out on the page. In order to shut mine up, I have to take the story as it comes, and know I'll edit later. Thinking about the whole great mess just frustrates me, saps my motivation, and makes me not want to write anymore.

I recognize that's not a problem for many writers, or that they're able to overcome it while still outlining their books. But, this is what works for me. If it works for you, great. Otherwise, you may consider some alternatives.


  1. I've found value in both methods and use both depending on the story and the stage. The one thing I always do is a white hot draft for that initial laydown of the story.

    1. I'd never even heard of outlining after the first draft is done, but, now that you mention it, I can think of a ton of benefits.

      And I do think there are stories that are percolating in my head right now that will need outlines for me to keep track of them, but I have plenty of other things I can pantster my way through, meanwhile.