Pantsing vs. Plotting, or Happy Mediums

Absolutely loving the rainbow banner at the top of the WordPress website today. What an amazing day in history.

I’ve been slacking. Again. I know.

A lot of it is due to the fact that I’ve been focusing mostly on my creative writing over my blogging. Which is great, I think. After all, I honestly don’t feel like I quite have the authority to run a writing advice blog as long as I’m unpublished. But the novel is coming along well (finally). I’ve restarted the beginning of it about 4 times now, because I kept losing sight of the plot. But now I’m on track, and I know where I want to take these characters.

Which leads me to what I want to talk about today (or, well, tonight, as it’s almost 2am as I’m writing this): Plotting.

Are you a pantser? Or are you a planner?

I’ve tried both. All through middle and high school, I was a pantser. I’d sit down and just wing it, let the story carry me wherever it wanted to take me. And that made the writing really, really fun. But my stories lacked cohesion. Scenes and themes didn’t really connect, and everything felt very messy and random, very chaotic. The further I got into the story, the less control I felt I had, and suddenly I would freeze, thinking that my story seemed silly.

So when I got to college, if/when I worked on a novel-length fantasy story I actually wanted to write and not a short story I had to write for class, I tried outlining. I’d think of a few rough characters and then, in a notebook or on flashcards, I would plan chapter-by-chapter what these characters would go through. I’d make bullet-points of the events in each scene, the characters present and their purpose, and the themes touched upon within the chapter. But that felt felt forced. My stories no longer felt organic, and the characters refused to be shoved into boxes. Oftentimes, they’d do the exact opposite of what I wanted them to. And a lot of the times I’d get so caught up in worldbuilding that I would forget the actual plot.

Either way, pantsing or plotting, I would reach a dead end with every story.

Tonight, however, I tried a new tactic: I call it, er… plantsing?

Basically I just tried to combine both pantsing and plotting techniques.

And I did so by starting with the characters and only the very major plot points: the beginning, the middle (or climax), and the ending (or resolution).

Starting with the characters forced me to tackle the story through their eyes, not mine. They’re the ones telling the story, after all, not me. They are reacting to the events, not being shaped by them.

My new tactic began with a pen and a notebook. I opened up to a fresh page and just brainstormed. I started with the antagonist, interestingly, and then briefly touched on the setting (a character in and of itself) but I did not get caught up in worldbuilding; that, I decided, would happen naturally as I wrote the first draft. Any grey areas I could fill in when I edited later. And then I moved on to the protagonist, and then some major plot points, and finally threw in some secondary characters. But I did not focus too much on the plot, aside from the beginning, middle, and end.

Then I sat down at the typewriter and started writing. I got halfway through the first chapter — four pages — in no time. And I left off at a point where I know where I am going next (this is a good tactic, I find, because it makes me itch for my next writing session). I kept my notebook open beside me the whole time, jotting down possible directions I could take, details about characters I needed to remember, details I missed and needed to add in the second draft. And only when I neared the end of chapter one did I decide where I might go in chapter two. I am taking this one small step at a time, but thanks to the very rough outline, I know at least where I’m heading.

It’s a very weird mishmash of pantsing and plotting. I have a very rough structure and know, in general, where I want to go. But I left a lot of blank spaces to fill in, whole sections of the story that I will allow to organically take shape as I write.

I am neither a pantser nor a plotter; I am a blend of both. Hopefully, if you (like me) struggle to do just one or the other, this tactic might also work for you.

Feel free to share your own tactics below. And as always, happy writing!

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