Saturday, November 19, 2011

Plotting vs Pantsing - Now With Salty Plums!

You know when they say if you can’t make your mind up about something you should write a list of pros and cons? Yeah, that’s crap advice. It’s right up there with putting money away for a rainy day. Because that way you just end up spending your money on lifejackets and ark-building supplies instead of awesome stuff like Angry Birds stickers and a phone case that looks like a cassette, and salty plums, which you haven’t tried since you were five and oh my god, how did you ever eat them, they should come with some sort of health warning. Like this one: Salty Plums. May induce feelings of nostalgia. Do not eat.

Anyway, apart from my corner shop selling salty plums now, the big news this week is that I have been once again wrestling with the plotter/pantser issue. And I did one of those lists as well. I came up with a heck of a lot of pro-plotting anti-pantsing reasons, and only one anti-plotting pro-pantsing reason. But it’s a doozie.

Warning: Do not eat

Remember my happy place WIP? The one that, if finished, will be dedicated to the good people at Banrock Station? It gave me this:

Anti-plotting pro-pantsing Reason One

On reading back a scene I wrote, I just said “Holy hell, I did not see that coming!”

And I kinda like being surprised.

So as much as I want to be a good plotter, I don’t think it will ever come naturally. Like a half-sucked salty plum it will stick in my craw while I panic about whether or not I can actually stand the taste, and whether or not I can actually force myself to finish.

When it comes to plotting I’ll keep to the barebones of an outline thanks to the corkboard in Scrivener, but that’s as far as I can plan ahead without driving myself insane, and it’s further than I ever used to plan, so that’s progress right?

Meanwhile, I’m going to walk to the corner shop and buy some more salty plums, because I live in a state of denial and I refuse to believe I can’t eat something that I lived on when I was five. Also, I'm stubborn. I will not be defeated by salted fruit.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Are you happy with that?
Salty plums, yay or nay? (This is not a euphemism.)
Salty plum analogies: disturbing, yay or nay?


  1. Got to do what works for you and it's good to actually know what that is. Congrats on figuring it out for yourself. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I'll start off with a pretty good outline that I may or may not look at during the writing process.

    Never had salty plums. Think I might be allergic to that particular fruit.

    I don't find plum analogies disturbing. Am I supposed to? Does that mean something's wrong with me? Oh well, I guess I can live with that.

  2. I have to say, salty plums sound kinda gross! And this is so funny because I've been thinking about this same issue! (plotting/pantsing, not salty plums). I have to say, I'm a fan of both. I like being surprised, which happened with this NaNo project I'm on. But I've also plotted like crazy AFTER the surprise, and I think it's really helping a lot.


    Being surprised is the best feeling. It's about capturing a sudden moment of inspiration and reading back over it and wondering what brought it on. Love it!

  4. Hi Cacy! The more i wrote the words "salty plums' the more disturbed I felt... Anyhoo! I'm kind of new to even outlining, usually I just start with a vague idea and dive right in, which probably explains my low success rate when it comes to finishing anything. Outlining has definitely made me more disciplines, which is what I needed!

    @ Cortney, I'm always worried that saying my characters have surprised me is like I'm either trying to be all mystical and artsy, or admitting that the voices in my head have more control over the process than I do! in actual fact, I think the ideas were there all along in my subconcious, and it's the act of writing that brings them out. When I plan, I lose some of that. And I'm in the same boat as you -- after that massive reveal, I need to figure out where to go!

    (And salty plums are an acquired taste. I acquired it once, then I lost it.)

  5. Miss Cole, let's start the support group for pantsers!

  6. My own thoughts on the pros and cons of outlining will have to be sent in an e-mail, for they are too convoluted and unhealthy for public display.

    But in the end, Cacy nailed it: Got to do what works for you and it's good to actually know what that is.

    P.S. I don't think I've ever had any kind of plum, but how can one deny a package that says "FRUIT FOR JOY"?

  7. I'm a vague plotter with a tendency to wander off to inspect new shinies.

    And salted plums? That sounds gross, but then I don't like plums so I guess I'm not the target market :-)

  8. We could call it The Pants Alliance :D

  9. I'm ready to be a soldier in the Pants Alliance. *salutes*

    I love it when the story surprises me. It happened big time last weekend. A plot point I did NOT see coming suddenly materialized out of the most mundane little detail I had thrown in during a scene. A little fact checking online about that detail made me pivot in the story in the MOST AWSOMEST way, because I knew what my character would do with it. Love when that happens.

  10. @ MC, that's why I love going to the Asian Supermarket - everything is happy, lucky, or promises to bring joy. That's marketing I want to believe in!

    @ Sarah, a good meander always turns up interesting things! Also, salty plums don't actually taste anything at all like plums. One of life's mysteries!

    @ Miss Cole, I love it!

  11. LG, as an army I think we'd be very disorganised. Left turn, no -- right turn. Wait, what's that over there?

    It's great, isn't it, when you're surprised by something you wrote? Tingly all over!

  12. Pantsing or Plotting... it's a false dilemma. You don't have to be one or the other, you don't have to do one or the other. There aren't only two ways. The "Pantser" and "Plotter" arguments generally represent them as two extremes. There are any number of methods in between. And you get to decide what works for you.

    Personally, I am still working out what works best for me. But I think it will end up being a little of both. I like having a rough outline, a direction to go, and lots of character and worldbuilding notes to fall back on. But I also like to have that element of discovery when writing the first draft. And I am not one to think that my outline is set in stone. If something comes to me while writing my draft, I can go back and change it accordingly. But if I don't have some sort of set starting point and end goal (even if they end up changing) for each scene I write, then I can't do it.

  13. Those salty plums look... gross...

    I like to plot things before I write them, but when I write things change a lot. I follow the characters around and that seems to work well for me!

  14. First, I must speak in defense of pros/cons. Like any good tool, they work if you know how to use them. It's not just a "my list is bigger than your list" thing, you have to weigh in how much each one matters. So one killer pro/con can outweigh any number on the other side.

    This whole plotter/pantser thing, and the pros/cons of outlining, reminded me I wrote a whole series of posts here about writers tools. The theme throughout was to know what works for you, and don't obsess about what seems to work for others.

    It sounds like you've already worked that out for yourself :)

  15. Can't we find the "happy medium"... marry the two and live happily ever after as... *drum roll*....
    PLOTTSER or PANTTER or......
    PANTOTTSER... or something equally ridiculous that makes everyone happy?

  16. Something about the whole salty plums thing freaks me out, but I don't know what it is. Maybe that they look like tiny hearts.

    Anyway, I like pantsing. It usually works for me to go in with only a vague idea of what will happen in the story. I always hear these reasons that I should be plotting things out and I go "That won't work for me." Plus it really is awesome not to know when a plot twist is coming.

  17. @ Sarash, agreed! I fall somewhere toward the pantser end of the scale. I think my main problem with outlining is it frustrates me so much that I lose all enthusiasm. It works better for me to dive right in, and backtrack later if necessary!

    @ Mel, they really are quite revolting, but I used to eat heaps of them.
    And I'm a big fan of following my characters around to see what they're up to!

    @ Botanist, it was definitely a killer pantsing pro! Thanks for the link!

  18. MISH, I am now prouding outing myself as a PANTOTTSER!

    JEFritz, I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes to be surprised!

  19. I have never even heard of salty plums! I'm not quite sure how I feel about the idea of them.

    I also enjoy being surprised by my writing. Definite pantser here, though I do jot down ideas for the future of the story when they pop into my head. I don't plan how to get there, though.

  20. I'm a pantser trying to plot, er outline, er, show up. Now, about those salty plums ...

  21. Hi Gene Pool Diva, thanks for following. I'm also making an effort to show up! And I tried another salty plum, couldn't finish it. But I will persevere!

  22. @ Shannon, you can get salty plums in most Asian supermarkets if you ever feel the urge to try them.

    And I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes to be surprised by my own writing!

  23. Great post, and I wholeheartedly agree on your trump card for pantsing. I love to be surprised, befuddled, or proven wrong by the books I read. Why wouldn't the same apply to my writing? Writing is about self-discovery. There are many things both about myself and my characters that I would never discover if I had plotted it out to begin with. Not to mention, it would be oh so blah.

    That's not to say you shouldn't have some idea of where your heading. A few waystops along the way, a vague portrait of where you'd like things to end up. Otherwise your plot ends up about a linear as an octopus.

    Salted plums? It's not the analogies that are disturbing. It's the likeness. They look like nothing so much as little dessicated hearts. Mummy hearts, perhaps. Or...possum hearts?

  24. I blogged about this ages ago. I've tried writing without much of an outline. I still have nightmares about what happened. No, I have to have a detailed plan of the whole book written down before I start. Even one missing chapter will give me ulcers. Of course, the plan can (and does) change (a lot) as I go along. I think, maybe if I was a much more accomplished writer, and more confident, I might be able to write planless.

    And I've never heard of those salty things.

  25. Aloha Jen,

    Pros, cons & nuts.....sounds like something Hef would have had on the cover of Playboy circa '70 :)

  26. @ Adam, agreed that writing is about discovery. It's so much fun that way! (Also, if salty plums were possum hearts I would force myself to eat them and then dance on the tiny possum graves...)

    @ Hi, JJ! I don't think that pantsing vs plotting has anything to do with accomplishment. Rest assured that if you have nightmares about writing without a detailed plan, I have a total mental shutdown if I try to do anything more than scribble a few vague ideas on sticky notes.

  27. Bwahahah, Mark! I might have mentioned in an email the other day that I thought salty plums should have been pirate slang for a certain part of the male anatomy. I see your brain works in the same very wrong way as mine!

  28. I’m going to call my local theater group and suggest that for this year’s holiday special they include The Dance of the Salty Plummed Pirates.

  29. I shall throw a wrench into the debate by pointing out that scenes and characters still surprise me, and I'm probably the most extreme plotter on the planet.

    So plotting does not equal no surprises. Sorry.

  30. I'm a diehard plotter. I could never write an entire novel without an outline. But that's not to say I don't enjoy writing by the seat of my pants. Sometimes I do. And sometimes I am surprised. But I hate the cleanup afterwards, the being lost and wasting time finding the right track again. So I'm still a diehard plotter. Always will be.

  31. @ MC: "The Dance of the Salty Plummed Pirates: Not Suitable for Persons Under the Age of 18/"

    @ Margo, Your wrench hit my argument on the head! :) I'm glad to know that plotters can still be surprised, because I think it's a wonderful feeling!

    @ Nancy: To me, the cleanup is a small price to pay for pantsing, whereas if I really try to plot I tend to lose all enthusiasm. I am working on becoming a better plotter, but to be honest I've got a better chance of getting lost if I'm following a map. This actually translates in real life as well. I have no sense of direction at all.

  32. Lol, Sommer! Let's get t-shirts made up!



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