At the end of my last post I promised we would explore story structure. I’ve changed my mind. Since we’ve already talked about the ‘why’ of writing a story, I think we should first explore the ‘how’ of writing a story. Here, I’m speaking of your chosen method, although to some writers, method might imply more order than they would admit. Said another way, ask yourself, what type writer do I want to be?
Whether you like it or not, there are only three main categories of writers: plotters, pantsers, and plantsers. But, don’t see these as limiting your choices. There are endless variations of each. The takeaway is there is no right or wrong way to write a novel. What’s important is that you find the method that works for you.
Plotters, pantsers, & plantsers
The plotter. Obviously, this is someone who engages in varying degrees of prewriting. A full-blooded plotter would plan and outline his complete story before he begins to write. He would know his story from beginning to end—every character and every scene—before putting pencil to paper.
The plotter will develop his personal approach to plotting. Many choose index cards, using one per scene. On one side, writing a one sentence description followed by few or many notes. On the other side, listing the characters in this scene. After completing sixty to eighty such cards/scenes, this writer will arrange them any way he wants on the floor, table, or wall, rearranging them as he decides how he wants to tell his story. Many other plotters take a similar approach but digitally. There are several software programs that utilize the index or scene card approach. Two that I’ve reviewed are, Beemgee and Plottr.
Here are the pros and cons of being a plotter. Obviously, it involves a lot of work, maybe months before the first word of the first draft is written. A good thing is this method is singlehandedly the best way to avoid writer’s block: you always know where you’re going. Plus, you mostly avoid getting sidetracked. Chasing rabbits is often a dead end that causes many a pantser to abandon the manuscript. But, a plotter can also create a mess— if he concludes his outline has problems. Redoing an outline in itself is easy. The hard part is redoing the actual manuscript. Normally, a change in one place has a ripple effect, creating work that could have been avoided if the outline had been correct to begin with.
The pantser. This is someone who writes their story by the seat of their pants, trusting their daily imagination to create the needed characters and plots. Thus, he engages in little to no prewriting. In other words, he writes without the aid of an outline or roadmap.
His reason for doing so, most likely, is that he wants to discover his story as he writes (or, like me with God and Girl, he doesn’t have time). This might be grounded in his fear that doing otherwise would squelch his creativity.
There are pros and cons to being a pantser. One of the best things is that it avoids months (sometimes years) of pre-planning. And, as stated above, writer’s block can appear any day. Hopefully, you as a new writer will never experience this debilitating, ‘death’ inducing, malady.
The plantser. This is a relatively new term. Plantsers are crossbreeds, those that are both plotters and pantsers, say, half and half, to suggest one of an infinite number of combinations. For example, a plantser might plan three or four key events in his story before he begins to write, leaving much to his imagination along the long and arduous journey to The End.
As to the pros and cons of being a plantser, sometimes you’ll enjoy the best of all worlds. But, everything comes with a cost.
My own evolution
As to my own writing, I’m undergoing a major transformation: away from being a pantser to becoming a plotter. It has been a gradual process but it is picking up steam. As I hinted at in a previous post, with my first novel, God and Girl, my story idea didn’t involve much planning; in fact, the idea came quickly, shortly before I accepted a challenge. What illustrates me as a pantser more than anything is the context and timing. It was November, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which requires (to be successful) you write a minimum of 50,000 during the thirty day period. In sum, I started my story writing career as a full-blooded pantser.
For me, the main reason I’m transitioning is to avoid (hopefully) black holes, the dark, scary, and inescapable rabbit trail a pantser can pursue that ties his story in knots, those that can only be untied by considerable retreat and rewriting. Don’t question my sincerity here. I have three incomplete manuscripts languishing in a figurative bottom desk drawer to prove my point.
The bottom line
No matter what type writer you want to be, you have to start where you are. The most important thing you can do is to start writing, every day. Learning to write is a journey. The only way you will grow and evolve as a writer, is IF you write.
I encourage you to write something today. Don’t have an idea yet? Then do one of the following: 1) just start writing anything; it’s known as freewriting; set your timer for ten minutes or two, and start writing, or 2) consider a writing prompt. Here are two websites for a ton of options: https://www.writtenwordmedia.com/500-writing-prompts-to-help-beat-writers-doubt/, and https://diymfa.com/writer-igniter.
I intend to take up story structure in my next post. I double promise. In the meantime and in anticipation of my next post, I encourage you to daily ponder the following statement I recently found on Beemgee.com’s website: “In storytelling, structure is at least as important as language.” After ten novels, I wholeheartedly agree.
Want a copy of my second novel? For free? All you have to do is sign up for my Myths, Mysteries & Murders readers group. https://dl.bookfunnel.com/r6dwwflvxx
Take the quiz
If you’d like a little help in deciding what type writer you’d like to be, take the MasterClass quiz. You can find it here:
Have a nice day.