Thursday, December 21, 2006

Plotters versus Pantsers

Since some discussion of plotting is going around I thought I'd throw in my 1.5 cents on the Plotters versus Seat-of-the-Pants writers. I started out writing short stories, often no more than a couple or three thousand words, and often I wrote them in a white heat. In addition, most of these were horror stories, where mood and atmosphere is often as important as the "events" that take place. For such pieces I really didn't need to do much plotting, so seat-of-the-pants it was.

When I wrote my first novel, well, my first decent novel, which was Swords of Talera, I used the same strategy that I'd learned in short stories. I didn't plot it out, just let it unfold. It was fun, perhaps the most fun I've ever had writing. But I can look back now and see that there are some weaknesses to that book that I don't believe are there in the two sequels. The latter two books were plotted, albeit not to the point where I developed a detailed outline. Instead, I knew where I wanted to begin, where I wanted to end, and at least several major points I wanted to hit along the way. I think the books are better for it.

For Cold in the Light, I initially just started writing, without thought of what might lie ahead. But after I got a couple of chapters in I realized I had a long piece coming and I stopped, spent some time plotting out the story chapter by chapter, and then rewrote the first couple of chapters to set up the rest. However, I still didn't know the end of that book until I finally got there. But at least with the steps planned out the ending became inevitable.

For short stories, I like the freedom of not plotting, of just spinning out the words to see where they go. This results in plenty of false starts, but those starts are usually no more than a page or so. I don't think I'll write another novel without a much more detailed plot, however, which is why I'm reading along carefully with C.S. Harris as she talks of plotting over on her blog.


Sidney said...

I heard Joe Lansdale say once that everybody outlines - for seat of the pantsers the first draft is the outline, it's just a big, very detailed outline. He was quoting someone but I'm not sure who had the original thought. I think it's probably true.

Wayne and I have talked about how you're dragging a work out of your brain and I think that's true. Outlines help but there's a gestational process in play also.

Charles Gramlich said...

Only sometimes the dragging is easy and other times it's hard. Wish I could figure out how to make it easy all the time.

Charles Gramlich said...

Only sometimes the dragging is easy and other times it's hard. Wish I could figure out how to make it easy all the time.

cs harris said...

I wrote my first two books without outlines, and my experience is much as you describe--exciting and fun, far more fun than I've had with subsequent books (although getting stuck in corners was scary). Perhaps that's why so many people stay with that method, because it is such a rush. But I know I get a better book with advance planning, and that's the point--at least for me--ending up with a good book. My readers' enjoyment is more important than my own.