Saturday, 19 March 2011

To Plot or Not...?

Are you a Plotter or a Pantser? Do you plan your novel meticulously scene by scene or do you fly into the mist?
As a writer of fiction, it’s the question and answer I avidly look for in an author interview. Myself, I’m a pantser, but one who yearns to be a plotter and that’s because I have written myself into the most awful mess so many times, usually at a point where I’ve invested too much in the work to even consider chucking it in the bin. And I’ll admit, it’s the reason I took gratuitous pleasure in a Tweet from author Ian Rankin this week, who said he’d ‘hit a wall at 60k’. Ian, it seems, is a pantser too.

One of my much-loved books on writing is Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and in it he admits to favour not plotting, although it obviously frustrates him too because he says, and I quote, ‘I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted anymore than I’d try to convince you I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible.’

But plotters, I hear, use systems by which they avoid sagging middles at 45k and writer’s block at 60k and they catch inconsistencies before they cause huge holes in the plot and indeed before they even begin writing. How appealing it all seems!
But what if careful planning stifles creativity? And - if the writer knows what will happen next - does the reader know it too, and will the reading experience be spoiled? What do you think?

Next Friday, 25th March, I’m interviewing the Amazon Kindle Number One Bestselling Romance Author of ‘No Cure For The Broken Hearted’ Kenneth Rosenberg, and if he ‘plotted or not’ was one of the questions I asked of him. Join us next week to find out the answer!

16 comments:

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Ah, the eternal question, Janice! I'm definitely a panster but, like you, I often wonder if it would be better to be a plotter. But I don't think I'd ever write the book if I sat down and planned it first.

I like the way the subconscious sometimes works in coming up with the next scene or character as we write. Must be nice to know where you're going though!

olivecollins said...

During the writing of my 3 previous novels, I was a panster with a hazy 1 line plot, but for the next novel I'm going to plot, plan and map all details - out of curiosity more than anything. Olive

Janice Horton said...

Hi Rosemary - my thoughts exactly - and that subconscious mind or 'muse' can be very helpful at times!

Janice Horton said...

Olive - I've just found 'The Snowflake Method'of plotting and, like you say, out of curiosity I'm going to try it out when I start the new WIP. Debs Carr just emailed me to say she hadn't been able to leave a comment but she was a plotter only to start with and a pantser after that - so there is a middle ground somewhere! Let me know how you get on?

Henriette said...

I tend to plot meticulously, and even though a few things will change along the way, my work is so much better for.
I start by writing down my idea as a 1-2 page synopsis, which I then expand into a plot outline. The outline, often 10-12 pages long, is divided into chapters and sections, some highlighted in different colours to indicate viewpoints, dialogue, settings, characters on the page, etc. It looks like a strange medical chart, really. Then I write the novel.
Sounds easy? Writing a novel is never easy!

Janice Horton said...

Hi Henri - and thanks for sharing your method, which sounds entirely do-able - but I agree, writing a novel is never easy!

Jean Fullerton said...

I'm afraid i'm a tedious plotter and even write each scene on a grid so that I can see the flow of the story and the high points before I start. this doesn't mean I don't change it as I go but I have to start with it or my ideas get too random and I can't pin them down. Also as I have to write a synopsis for my publishers the story is already laid out for me before I start

I think the important thing is to do what works for you. In writing there is no right or wrong way just yours.
Jean F

Lesley Cookman said...

Despite the fact that I write crime/mystery, I'm still (although I hate the word - grumpy old woman here) a "pantster". I have a vague idea, a situation that triggers the story, but frequently don't know either murderer or murderee until some way into the book.

When the story is established, after four or five chapters, say, I then begin to work things out as there is a danger that some great, gaping anomolies will appear!

Janice Horton said...

Hi Jean - your meticulous method is likely necessary for the type of books you write, when your fictional timeline vs real life events has to be carefully considered. I admire your attention to detail!

Janice Horton said...

Lesley - your way sounds rather less grumpy than I feel about my state of my current plot! Did you know, Stephen King (mentioned as I refered to him in my blog post)famously didn't know if John Coffee was going to die in The Green Mile until he wrote the very last chapter? I find that to be quite breathtaking!

Diana said...

I have tried to plot, but I am a disorganized mess most of the time. Right now I have two different colors of socks on, partly because I don't care--they're socks--and because I just roll with stuff most of the time. Same with writing. I do the stephen king thing and write with characters in a situation--a problem--and see how they get themselves out of it. Good post and I love your pic on your home page. :)

Andrew Culture said...

I honestly couldn't write fiction without months of plotting; my writing background is in non-fiction and music/ punk writing and learning to plot came hand in hand with learning to create fiction. That being said my plots are very fluid and most of the actual writing comes from being in the moment.

Janice Horton said...

Diana - your 'roll with it' attitude is probrably the most productive. I like the sound of it. Can't but wonder what colours your socks are....? Thanks for liking my pic - my doggies are sooo cute arn't they?

Janice Horton said...

Hi Andrew - nice to meet you. I've just been over to your blog and love the music video!
I see too you have a Kindle. Please come back next week (1st April)and leave a comment. It's my Big Blog Tour day to promote my new Kindle book Bagpipes & Bullshot and I'm giving away Kindle Beach Protectors in a prize draw for those who either simply leave a comment or RT my twwets on Twitter using hashtag #bagpipes

Talli Roland said...

I'm a bit of both, actually. I plot the main turning points and the ending so I know where I'm going, and then I fill in the blanks!

Janice Horton said...

Talli - that sounds both uncomplicated and do-able!