#Amplotsing? What Happened When A Pantser Tried Plotting

And playing in the sandbox IS creating, anyway.

I’m a panster.

And, until recently, I never thought about changing that.

I’ve mentioned previously that it works for me quite well. I get to dive into the story and run around after the characters, waiting to see what they get up to and how they reveal themselves to me. I never know quite what they’re going to do when I start writing, you see, as we’re only just getting to know each other. I know what sort of person they are – young or old, smart or not-so-smart, shy or out-going. But until the monsters actually start coming out of the walls, I don’t really know if they’re going to crack jokes, crack heads, or crack up. That stuff they let me know as we go along, and I’m fine with that. It’s fun, and my experience with plotting has been that I may as well doodle on a page for a few days, then put it in the compost. At least that way the worms’ll get some use out of it.

Less fine is the chaos that ensues once I start editing. Because there was a lot of meandering around while I got to know the characters, a few false starts where I thought the protagonist was actually the antagonist, and a bit of confusion when the cat came in and started ordering everyone about. Plus there was that thing with the troll tea party that was entirely irrelevant, and a subplot to do with mutinous garden gnomes that went exactly nowhere.

So editing my first draft is rather closer to rewriting.

I’m surprised my face hasn’t frozen like that.

Which is manageable, in its way. Last time, I sat down and did a full outline before I started the edits, threw some things out, put some things in, shifted a few scenes, and managed to shoehorn the manuscript into something that was reasonably coherent. Certainly enough so that I could get my real editing head on for the following drafts. And, eventually, it got to start looking like a book.

But it does take a long time. I’m essentially writing two books before I even get to a real first draft. And there’s a lot of wandering around the house looking confused, and staring at the page wondering what happens next, and throwing frankly rather unpleasant things at my characters to see what they do. Which they should expect, but it does seem a bit unfair when I then cut a load of scenes out. They’re probably thinking, “Jeez, I’d’ve handled that armoured goat attack a lot better, if I hadn’t already been exhausted from fighting off airborne snails with poison darts. And now she’s just throwing that away? My writer sucks.”

So when I decided to write a Beaufort Scales Christmas mystery, I decided that I would try outlining. (Previous writer self freaks out and starts stuttering about stifled creativity and constricted potential. I throw her cookies to distract her).

We’ve been mystery-solving with Beaufort before.

I had two reasons for this. One, I know Beaufort and his various cohorts reasonably well. I’ve already trailed after them through several short stories and a murder mystery (which I really should have outlined, as it was a serial), and I felt pretty confident that I knew how they were going to behave right from the start. Two, I decided I wanted to do this before I went away for a week and a half, which gave me a grand total of 10 days to write it. This did not leave time for wandering about the house or staring blankly into space while I waited for Beaufort to decide what to do next.

I set a goal of 40,000 words, which was ambitious but not too silly, found some outline templates here (I’d previously used Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet for a post-first draft outline, and I liked it, so I used it again), and started. I’d known I wanted to do another Beaufort mystery for a while, so it wasn’t exactly going in blind, plus I had a few ideas already ticking over. Add in a couple of suggestions from a lovely twitter friend (thanks Anna!), and I was off.

The writer at work.

I’ve heard of people having word counts for their outlines and that sort of thing, but I did all mine on paper, so I’m not sure how long it was in the end. I preferred paper because then I just kept my notebook on my desk, and it made it easy to refer back to, plus I still find writing by hand to be easier and more organic than on the laptop. I wasn’t super-detailed – just the major points that I wanted to happen for each beat of the story. It took me two drafts to feel happy with it, and even then there was some ‘and stuff happens’ bits in the middle, but I think that made my pantsy little heart more comfortable.

Then I jumped in.

I was kind of unconvinced at first, because it did take me a day to find the rhythm of the story. But after that, it was actually pretty fun. I still had my slow patches, but because I knew what was going to happen next, it was easier to find out how to get from one scene to another. Of course, being me, scenes jumped around, vanished, or were replaced by different ones, and a character I introduced who was meant to have one line ended up sitting down, making himself a cuppa and staying. Two of them, actually. But I was still always moving forwards, rather than diagonally, sideways and underground, overground, wombling free, which is more my usual style.

*grasp on reality becomes increasingly tenuous as all time is spent with dragons*

And all of this affected my pace. I can usually do a comfy 2,000 words a day, and have been known to sprint to the end with a 10,000 word-er. Obviously, I would ideally have had more time, so I didn’t have to sprint, but, after the first day, 5,000 words was easy and 7,500 a push but doable. I wound up with two marathon days right at the end, the last of which was a 14,000 word-er, which I am boasting about, because I have never done that before and do not expect to do it again (not least because I was a wreck the whole next day, and dreamed about dragons as soon as I fell asleep. Not that the second part is bad). It was a long day. And the whole thing wound up as a bit over 52,000 words written in 8 days. Yay Beaufort!

Could I have done that pantsing?

I don’t think so. While I may have the overall story in my head, I don’t have the details, and those are the bits I need to build the scenes.

Trust me, Snoopy. I’ve written worse.

Could I have done it with characters I didn’t know?

Again, I don’t think so. I know a lot of writers will include character interviews and so on in their planning, but I don’t know my characters until I see them in action. Getting them to tell me about themselves doesn’t work, because as soon as they’re in place, I find out they lied to me anyway.

Would I do it again?

Yes. It was fun, and ridiculously exciting to throw a story out so quickly. And I didn’t find the outline constrictive at all, which surprised me. Of course, I did consider it as a guide rather than a plan, so that might have had something to do with it. I don’t know how I’d do it with new characters, but I think it’d just be a much slower process and require some more tweaking as I went.

And now to wait until the editing starts to see if it actually worked…

How about you? Plotter, pantser, or somewhere in between? And would you try changing?

 

 

18 thoughts on “#Amplotsing? What Happened When A Pantser Tried Plotting

  1. Yay! I’m so glad you gave plotting a go. I used to totally pants and usually got stuck 15k words into my story. Then I tried plotting and I’m never going back. Like you, I can’t get to know my characters through interviews and I get a lot of great ideas while writing that would never have occurred to me while I was planning, but I’ve found my plans invaluable for getting finished and having something resembling a story.

    1. I think I’m pretty sold on this hybrid pantsing/plotting thing – I was SO resistant to plotting before! But I think (hope!) it’s going to make the editing a lot easier. It certainly sped things up…

  2. Well done Kim! That was very fast writing and I can believe it was a lot of fun. What’s not to like about fast writing and dragons?

    I pantsed my first WIP (three complete drafts) before I got a handle on story structure and had to do a complete rewrite this year (125k). Literally a whole rewrite. I don’t think I ended up using any of the words I’d written before. That was a heck of a lot of work and I’m only just now ready to start ‘proper’ editing, after almost two years on the story.

    So yeah, I’m plotting the sequel (which I plan to write a good chunk of during NaNoWriMo) to avoid making the same ‘mistake’ again, if it could be called a mistake, which it probably shouldn’t. It was an experience and a definite learning one so no regrets. But I’m looking forward to seeing how this pans out.

    That said, some of my favourite elements of my WIP came from unplanned and unexpected moments that came to me as I was writing and I want to keep that flexibility.

    1. I’ll be so interested to see how you find it! I really thought it would make me feel a little stifled, so I was surprised that I still felt I was able to write quite freely, including having spontaneous characters and events popping up. And I’m hoping that I’m not going to need to rewrite that much, as my experience previously has been pretty similar to yours!

      Good luck with NaNoWriMo – that’ll be another learning curve! And I think this whole writing thing is very much learning on the job, so absolutely agree that our first attempts aren’t mistakes – they’re drafts 😉

  3. I’m usually a pantser, but after pantsing last years NaNo and getting frustrated when I had to rewrite most of what I’d done, I’m planning this year. I hope it’s as successful as your attempt was. I’d love to win in 8 days! 🙂

    1. Good luck on NaNo! I’ve been too scared to try it so far. And yes, I definitely understand the frustration of the neverending rewrite – I’m interested to see what happens when I start editing…

      1. Thanks 🙂 It’s a fun experience and great to network with all the other writers struggling through it.
        I’d be interested to hear how your editing goes too. With a good plan before writing begins I’d assume it’d be easier, but you never know!

        1. I’m hoping that’ll be the case on the editing too, but I was pretty tired towards the end, so it may have got a little interesting…!

  4. I’m a plotter and always will be. It’s the organisational, neurotic freak in me. The thought of panting makes me need a lie down.

    Outlining can take quite some time but I almost view THAT as the first draft. Once I start writing proper, I can write quite a lot each time. Well, that’s happened with the novel so far. We’ll see if it happens again.

    1. I needed a lie down after I decided to plot. My neurotic creative freak was absolutely sure that there was NO WAY she could write under those conditions…

      I love the idea of viewing your outline as your first draft. It makes so much sense, and cuts out all the meandering I tend to do! I’m not sure a detailed outline will ever quite suit me, but I do think I could have spent longer outlining even this latest story. If I can think of it as “Draft 1.0” rather than “thing I have to do before I get to have fun” I imagine that’ll help rather a lot…

  5. Plotting, pantsing or in between?
    I’m inclined to opt for in-between; but isn’t that a contradictio-in-terminis? Something like “a little bit pregnant?”, A digital “little-bit or half-bit”???
    For the my preciousss-characters, I’ve drawn up four circles.
    The inner contains my main-characters, the next their closest friends/family, and the outermost, the “random” personalities, by-passers that are easily sacrificed at the end of the chapter. Before adding to my series, I draw up a bullet-list for each of them, who they are, their motives, anxieties, secret desires, behavior. It troubles me to admit, but I know about them/understand them more them about my own family. Does that make me a plotter? Far from it!
    All of the horrible events my dearest characters have to endure, are far from plotted. Sometimes they drop out of the blues, while listening to the news, a theme used in a song, personal experience, or they emerge while procrastinating, causing me to stay in the shower for an hour, or needles crying on a parking place.
    Like costly xmas-baubles, I pack them and store them in a ideas-file.
    Sometimes, just fragments of a bitter dialogue, sometimes even entire chapters.
    Waiting to be fit-in, somewhere, someplace, sometime.
    That almost sounds like a plotter, but I aint. Why?
    As is said: “Life is what happens, while making other plans.”
    I’m allergic to fabricated stories: “long time ago, something happens to the MC, it became very hard and had to overcome all sorts of troubles, but he/she over came it all, and they all died happily ever after, because the inspector solved it all, so the whole police squad was fired and jailed into an open correction institute.
    Sometimes, after some chapters in a book, or 10 minutes watching a movie or tv-show, it becomes clear how it will end. Deja-vu. Appalling like over-produced songs.
    The major differences between art and reproductions. Agencies/publisher may be stunned how well you master all style-figures, observing all contemporary grammar rules, correct gender percentage, while staying within the agreed and predefined word-count-limit (brrr) It may even become a best-seller, but “over plotted” stories are only suitable for my best cellar.
    If you mean by plotting, making a rough framework, in order to avoid inconsistencies, do so. But don’t overdo, “getting framed” by it, dare to challenge surprise/shock reader, publisher. Break rules.

  6. I’m definitely somewhere inbetween. I get the characters first and all their problems and by the time I start writing, I know them really well as they’ve been in my head talking for so long! I have a strong idea of what the book will be, pretty much beginning, middle and end, and then I start writing. I keep a notebook for each book, and I plan chapters ahead as I write, so usually before I start writing each day I already know pretty much what’s happening in at least the next three chapters. Sometimes I will know the ending, somtimes it will reveal itself as I go along. Other times it will change entirely on the tenth draft or something!

    1. I think the inbetween road is going to be a good one for me, too – I love the sense of discovery as the story unfolds, and am terrible at sticking to a strict plan (actually, I’m incapable of it), but it was wonderful to know where I needed to jump to next. It really helped me get through the inevitable “what now” bits, because it became a bit connect-the-dots.

      That’s a good point on knowing your characters – mine do hang out in my head for quite a while before they hit the paper! So maybe my worries about whether I’ll be able to plan with new characters will prove groundless. That may have to be the next experiment… 😉

  7. For me as a memoirist it is slightly different. I know the characters and the overall plot, it is the order, focus and what the book is truly about that I must determine. I write full scenes and then must toss them. I know the main character in depth but I have to find the narrator and really discover what she is thinking at the deepest level. I’m more of an explorer.

    1. And what a wonderful thing, to be an explorer of our own life! I find any sort of autobiographical writing to be really difficult, so I admire how you can make sense out of it all 🙂

  8. So glad you gave it a go and it worked for you.

    Creatives are all so different. It’s worth trying things out and seeing what works for you! You never know when you’ll find a better way.

    1. It’s very hard not to resist changing what you’re doing when it works, even if it’s a bit laborious. But I’m happy I did! It’s definitely worth playing around a bit, but the proof of the plotsing will be in the editing, I fear…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *