Panster vs. Plotter by @lafleurdeplume

By tweeting this post, you can earn promotional tweets from me as part of the Amazon Tweet Exchange.
Details here.

Panster vs. Plotter

By Sarah LaFleur

Outlining beforehand is one of the most debated elements of writing that I’ve encountered when discussing writing process among authors. Some can’t live without the tangible goals an outline provides, while others feel it cramps their creativity. I’ve tried both and ultimately subscribe to a hybrid approach to writing.

My first novel was written entirely by the seat of my pants (hence the name “panster”) and as a result, meandered through several twists I never saw coming. It also ended up being a behemoth of nearly 200k words that I’m still in the process of editing down. Now, over a year later, I’m hoping to have a workable manuscript that is query worthy by the end of the summer.

Being a panster was fun. Even though I didn’t know specifically what I would write from day to day, I always had a general sense of what I wanted to create when I sat down to add to the manuscript. That said, I started writing the book with an iron-clad picture of how the story would begin (with a car accident), what the basic story would be about (a teenage girl who could experience her future… wouldn’t that mess her up?), several plot elements (boys, because, well, teenage girl), and how I wanted it to end (no spoilers here, but according to my BETA readers it’s good!) My brief bouts of mental planning also included themes and some unusual structural elements that ultimately helped me keep things moving.

Was it thrilling to allow things to flow freely? Absolutely. I had days where I would add upwards of six thousand words in a matter of hours. But it was also terrifying. My biggest concern was getting stuck. I spent sixteen of the seventeen weeks it took to complete the novel in constant fear of writer’s block. It would wake me from a sound sleep, plague me during the hours away from my computer, and haunt me every time the words would slow during extended writing sessions. Now, I never did get stuck (but have since) and I can’t say for sure what made the difference with this story, but I wrote it at a time in my life when I had lots of time to write without distraction.

This method of writing served me well through four additional pieces, including my sole published work currently available in ebook and paperback: Who Is Evelyn Dae? That changed, however, when I signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time this past November.

I love to push myself creatively, so the challenge of writing a complete manuscript (50k words) over the course of 30 days appealed to my competitive nature. While writing WIED, I had a new idea for a science fiction novel. The idea formation felt very much like my first novel, but I knew I needed to have some structure in order to reach the daily target of 1667 words. Halloween day I flew several hours to my little brother’s wedding in the Caribbean, and that’s when I decided to outline the entire story.

The premise was simple: 30 days, 30 chapters with alternating perspective between the lead female and male characters. One flight and consequent layover later I had my outline. Each chapter had notes ranging from a single sentence to a few paragraphs. I made seven character sketches and I was ready to write!

Fast forward thirty days, and I’m convinced plotting like this is the only reason I managed to complete the challenge on the evening of November 30th with 50,082 words. In the end I added five chapters and several fun ancillary characters that I plan to expand upon now that I’m working with an editor to prepare the piece for publication in late 2014 or early 2015. The NaNoWriMo challenge taught me several things about myself, but the two most important is that I’m unable to follow an outline without changing things along the way, and I’m incapable of writing without editing as I go.

Whatever way you decide to write, the best advice I can offer is to know yourself. If you have a favorite place to write, use it. If you need a set schedule, make that happen. If you can’t write a word until you have a 20 page outline, then create one. And if you absolutely cannot imagine being anything other than a Panster, by all means, enjoy that process.

Connect with Sarah

Website  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Amazon