Posted by Michelle Levigne on February 19, 2017
Ah, yes, the great debate -- should you plot or should you write by the seat-of-the-pants? Both sides of the debate can get rather rabid, even nasty, advocating for what they believe is the right way to write that novel.
You know what? It's THEIR right way, and just because it's the way your favorite writer writes doesn't necessarily mean it has to be YOUR right way.
Plotters: Planning out the sequence of events, the scenes, who is in each scene, what elements of the plot are introduced, complicated, resolved, advanced, whatever, in the scene. Some people are so detailed, by the time they finish their outline, the book is mostly written. Some people have 20-page, even 30-page outlines for their books. Sitting down to write that book without knowing what's going to happen, to whom, and exactly on what page ... it gives them hives. And the inverse is true -- those people give ME hives. <G>
Pantsers: The seat-of-the-pants writers. The ones who start out with an idea, an image in their heads, or a question they want to explore. They might start with one character or an intriguing scene, and take it from there. They're only a few pages ahead of the readers in knowing what the hey-ya is going on in the book. They couldn't write by an outline -- they couldn't write an outline -- to save their lives. They'd rather chew glass than use an outline.
Okay, if those methods, and the different variations and extremes work for you, then GO FOR IT!
Me ... I'm a plontser. I'm in the middle. I know where I want my book to go, I have some general ideas of the important turning points, the highs and lows, the complications in my book, but very little beyond that, sometimes. Sometimes, if I'm writing in an established universe, I have a lot of details, a lot of background, and I have to write within the lines because I referred to these events or that character's life in a previous book. Sometimes, though, I start off with an outline of less than a page, with very vague details. Maybe I don't even know the villain's name, or the name of the town/planet where the story takes place -- but I learn those things as I go along, like a movie playing inside my head -- and I get a 400-page book after starting out with a one-page outline. I give myself the freedom to go off on tangents, to follow rabbit trails, to explore -- and to rewrite that outline if it stifles me. I definitely have to change that outline if my characters, who are becoming more three-dimensional as I get deeper into the story, suddenly dig their heels in and say, "Nuh uh, ain't goin' there -- I wanna do THIS, not what you have planned for me."
Don't argue with your characters. Change your characters, rewrite your characters, do brain surgery and plastic surgery if necessary, but don't waste your time and energy arguing with them. If you make your characters do and say things that aren't "right" for them, the way you've already written them, your readers will know and they won't be happy.
The point of all this is you have to write by the method that works for YOU, not what other people in your writing group, your critique group, your creative writing class advocate. Do what works for you.
Lots of people will tell you that when it comes to writing, there are no hard-and-fast rules. That's not really true -- the mechanics, the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation, those ARE set, non-negotiable rules. The standards and guidelines established by the publisher you write for -- those are set and non-negotiable. Everything else? That's up to you. The story is an exploration of your private world, so that means the equipment you take with you, the path you follow through that world, that's up to you. After all, just because your favorite trail guide specializes in desert treks doesn't mean you have to use desert-compatible equipment when you're going through the rainforest -- right? Same with writing. Adapt to suit the story. Adapt to suit YOUR soul. Be a plotter, a pantser, or a plontser, to whatever degree necessary. And don't let anybody tell you you're wrong.