Sunday, December 9, 2012

When it Comes to Writing, I'm More of a 'Pantser-Plotter'

One of the things that fascinates me about writers, artists, musicians, game developers or any creative person is the process they take to creating. In the writing realm, there are two very general categories that writers tend to identity with in terms of how they approach a story, novel, etc.--"Plotters" and "Pantsers."

A "Plotter" is someone who takes the time to outline their story, profile their characters, and create a detailed roadmap from the beginning to the end of their story. They are the prepared.

A "Pantser" is pretty much what it sounds like--someone who writes by the seat of their pants. These people may start with a general idea, but many times they have no idea where the story is going to go, and they let the setting and characters dictate what happens next.

There is no right or wrong here, and of course, many people fall somewhere in between these two categories on the spectrum. But in general, you either start with a plan, or you fly by the seat of your pants.

Now, if you have have asked me before I wrote my first book what kind of writer I was, I would have told you I was a "Plotter." I’m a pretty organized (some would say anal) person when it comes to my daily routine, producing the Secret Identity podcast, and my approach to my day job.

Turns out though, when it comes to writing--I’m a "Pantser."

There’s kind of a chicken and the egg thing goin on here, but since I wrote my first book during National Novel Writing Month, I think I trained myself to be a "Pantser." There was no planning or plotting before NaNoWriMo began, and once it started, I just went. I had a general idea to begin with, but that story organically evolved as the words hit the page. The characters told me where they wanted to go, and how they were going to develop. At one point, my setting started to assert itself, and then the antagonists made their intentions clear. Once those things started to come together, the path through the rest of the story became clear.

So it’s not like I did no plotting at all, it’s just that the plotting happened after the story got going. I needed to start writing before I really knew how the story was going to come together. It was a really freeing experience, and that formula is one that I’ve applied again and again, whether I set out to or not.

When I wrote my second book, I tried to outline and chart a path through the story. I had even written a comic script based on the idea that I planned to use as the inspiration for the first few chapters. When I actually started writing however, I deviated almost immediately, and the story went off in a whole new direction. And it was great.

My webcomic Mo Stache has taken a similar path. The ideas that i started with went out the window in the first twenty pages of the script. It wasn’t until I was a quarter of the way through that I saw how the story was going to end. Even then, I’ve only been able to plot some signposts along the path of the story, things that i want to work in as we get closer to the end. Most of the time though, I’m just writing as I go.

Of course, this style is not without its perils. With a “Pantser” approach, you always run the risk of the story being disjointed, of plot threads being unresolved, and of losing the core of the story altogether.

So I guess that my style is more of a “Pantser-Plotter,” or as I like to think of it, a “Signposter.” I start with a basic idea, and then I plant some signs along the road of my story once I get going, just to make sure I’m still headed to my intended destination, even though I get off the highway several times along the way.