Saturday, January 22, 2011

Plotter or pantser?

There are two types of writers, apparently, those who plot, and those who fly by the seat of their pants. I am a pantser. It’s why I have a gazillion unfinished pieces, ranging from a couple of interesting paragraphs to massive sweeping epics shoved haphazardly into my failing cabinet. I am also the most disorganised person in the world. I can’t open my filing cabinet anymore. This is partly because the drawer is busted, but mainly because I’m too afraid of what I might find in there. I mean, some of that stuff dates back to Grade Eight. And it’s largely crap. I keep it for nostalgic reasons, I suppose, and in case any burglars may want to blackmail me in the future. I’m thoughtful like that.

I envy plotters. I aspire to be one. I try to write index cards, and chapter overviews, and character profiles, and, oh, it lasts about a day before I realise it’s just too much hard work. Also, I suspect that if I allowed it I would just use it as the ultimate form of procrastination. What? I can’t possibly write my novel, I’m too busy planning it!

I am a pantser. It’s good, at the beginning, when you start off with nothing but a few vague ideas and a rush of enthusiasm. Unfortunately for me, that enthusiasm is never enough to carry me through to the end. Sadly, novels are not like meandering streams. Well, mine are, and that’s the problem. Hither and thither they dart, burbling happily and exploring their way, and then all of a sudden they peter out into a sludgy little mess. This would be the point where the plotters could take out their index cards, play around with the weft and the weave of the narrative, and push on. When I get to this point I tend to lose interest and get distracted by another half-arsed idea.

My resolution for 2011: Strike a balance. Start with more than a picture of a character in my head. Write a synopsis. Write chapter overviews, broken into basic scenes. Write the theme on a Post-it note and stick it on my computer. Look at it occasionally. And, when the moment comes to diverge in an entirely unexpected direction, still go with it because it’s always fun to explore. I just need to find a way to do it without getting totally bushwhacked. 


  1. You don't have to plan out the whole thing at once. Maybe plot it out chapter at a time as you go. At least that's how I approach it. I do a vague bullet-point list of the things I know should happen throughout the book, then I can only think a few chapters at a time ahead (more bullet points!). But if you're always a coupla chapters ahead you always have something to keep moving towards.


    I've just thought of a horse being lead by a carrot on a string. Maybe my method isn't the best one out there...

  2. Thanks, Cacy! Plotting is my bugbear, but I am working on it.

    And can I just say two words: Head pigeons!



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