Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Plotters vs. Pantsers

Kaye: Readers often want to know how writers write. This is something
that is VERY hard to talk about. Because we just don't know. We just
do it. There are some broad differences in writing styles, though. One
is the writer who lays out the whole plot before hand versus the
writer who has an idea what she wants to say, and maybe where she
wants to end up, and some other details, but mainly writes "into the
mist." Which kind of writer are you Peg?

Peg: I'm definitely more of a plotter than a pantser. I need to have all
my plot points planned out before I begin writing. I find that laying
them out along an ascending line helps me make sure that I am ramping up the
tension as the story moves along and that I'm providing enough twists and
turns. I don't have every single, last scene plotted out though. I like
surprises, and there always are some during the actual writing process!
If I have too much planned out in advance I feel like I've already written
the book. Not enough planned and I flounder around feeling destination-less!
How about you, Kaye?

Kaye: For novel writing, we're probably very similar. I'm at the half-way
point of one now. At least I HOPE it's the half-way point. I tend to
write short and always worry the manuscript won't be long enough. I've
run through a lot of my plot points/happenings/projected scenes. But,
as has always happened before, things are popping up. I realize I
haven't dwelt nearly enough on some of the red herrings, and my
characters have just decided to do a rodeo. Since I had already
planned a trampling by an enraged bull, this makes perfect sense.

In spite of my careful planning, I usually finish up the first draft
well shy of 60K. On rewrites it bumps up to 65-85K.

Do you have a length problem, Peg?

Peg: Yes, I definitely write "short." I think part of it stems not from
having enough "plot" but from the desire to pare scenes down to their most
important components. I don't want the reader skimming or skipping over the
"boring parts." Tends to make for a rather short scene! I've discovered
that reminding myself to include the character's *feelings* helps add length
and depth without adding extraneous bits that don't belong in the scene.

Kaye: That works well for me, too. Plus, I always strive to get as
many of the five senses as I can into each scene. I can't usually do
taste, but it's surprising how often I can when I search for a way to
get it in there. I think we both like to leave out, as Elmore Leonard
says, the parts that readers skip.

Short stories, for me, are a whole 'nother thing. I hardly ever plot
them out. They just happen as they happen. I can relax with them
because they can be as short as they want to be. And some of mine want
to be VERY short.


  1. I keep running into blended writers: those who do a bit of both. That includes me. I will plot out the major elements of the story and the dramatic arcs, but how I get to them isn't always planned. This way I have a map of the story that keeps me going, yet there's wiggle room for those moments of inspiration.

    Planning the major story elements helps me because I like to leave bread crumbs in my mysteries, those little clues and incidents that, were you to read the book a second time, clearly point to a certain person or outcome but at first glance are fairly invisible. That requires knowing how things are going to turn out.

  2. So Peg and I are on the right track if we're doing what you're doing, Michael!

    Do you, like us, write short also?

    I know you co-author. If you (or a character) decide to take the story into left field, what does that do to your partner?