Saturday, February 15, 2014

How tempting is it to take "The Pantser Pill"? Plotting vs Pantsing: Part Two

I badly needed to revisit this topic ...

I've hit that proverbial brick wall with both the spin-off to The Land of Betrovia trilogy and the prequels.

And why have things stalled?

While working on those things related to the Betrovia trilogy, I'm also hammering away on an entirely different project (the novel I started the winter of 1984). I also do not have a complete outline to tell me how to bring the story to an end.

Why can't I just plod on without thinking about how these things should end?

Might it have something to do with being the first-born from a dysfunctional family? Just another one of those control-freaks struggling off and on with obsessive-compulsive disorder?

I know I need to plot/outline to somehow keep tabs on loose ends ... it's in my DNA! 
Oh yes, I detest loose ends! 

After publishing the trilogy, I decided to create an Excel-based timeline to help me decide where to go next. Or course, if I was a tried-and-true die-hard plotter like I think I am I would have set up that Betrovia universe spreadsheet years ago!

But there it is ... with over 300 years of "Betrovia history" delineated in a nice, neat timeline ... in multi-colored complexity to boot!

The goal is to kick out three Betrovia-related novels by December: the full set of the Nether Valley Tales, The Proselytes (still a working title for the spin-off featuring Kristof and Dalten), and Into the Desert (the working title for the continuing story of Edelin and Galena). But which one will be first? Does it matter?

Oh, and then there's the Life in Beatty book ... which is already at 60K 
but feels like it's only 2/3 done!

Plotting vs. panstering ... I think I'm somewhere in between. No, I haven't ingested the "blue pill of pansterology", but I have not been true to my outlining genetics.

Anyway, here's the continuation of what the fine folk of The Writers' Cafe 
have been thinking lately about this thought-provoking topic.

"Okay, I bet everyone will tell me that I'm wrong, but here's my theory:
First, a little background on how I formulated this theory. Last night I saw a promo for the new CW show called Star-Crossed, and it made me think of the prologue from Romeo and Juliet. (You know... 'from the forth the loins of these two foes, a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.') And I was thinking about the prologue gives the ending away, (and also that loins is a funny word) but that must not have been much of a surprise, because with Shakespeare's tragedies, you could tell the end of all of them from the title. (In Hamlet, Hamlet dies. In Othello, Othello dies. In King Lear... well, anyway.) And I was also thinking about how there's this appetite for endless remakes of things, which is kind of silly, because I mean, I'm watching the new Carrie, and I already know how it's going to turn out. Anyway, so that got me thinking about how some stories are enjoyable because you don't know what's going to happen. Like Fight Club. With the ending ruined, that story would have been way less cool. And other stories are enjoyable even if you already know the ending, because you want to know how it happens. Same kind of thing for a remake. I wanted to see how the remake handled the story of Carrie. (And actually, since Shakespeare's plays were all based on well-known stories, maybe that was the allure of them as well.) So, I started thinking that some stories are what-happens stories and other stories are how-it-happens stories. For instance, twisty-turny thrillers are about what happens. But a mystery story is about how it happens, because you know the detective's going to catch the killer. Similarly, romance stories are about how it happens. You know they're going to fall in love. And I wondered if people who pants tend to enjoy finding out what happens and if people who plot are more likely to enjoy how it happens. For me, the fun of writing is often the nitty-gritty details. Writing the conversations, the emotional fall out, the punches and the explosions. But I often get sort of annoyed with trying to figure out what happens, like the overarching plot, because that's hard and no fun. So I often like to get the plotting business out of the way so that I can get to the fun stuff. I wonder, however, for dyed-in-the-wool pantsers, if the whole joy of writing comes from discovering what happens next, and that's why plotting takes all the joy out of writing."

"Pantsing is just so inefficient. I find it to be so, at any rate -- I end up rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. Getting my second book done has taken %&*)@#$! forever. My problem with plotting is not characters acting weirdly (I end up with that pantsing, too, LOL). It's more that I stare at my blank outline and can't think of anything to have happen. I can't seem to generate plot outside the act of writing. Apparently, when Morpheus offered me the choice, I took the pantser pill, and now there's no going back!"

"The style differences between Brian DePalma's CARRIE via the 1970s, versus the Kimberly Pierce version via the 2010s, are matters of director style, not the storyline itself. King's text remains largely unchanged from when it was first published until today. And he pantsed that plot. Both DePalma and Pierce took that plot and added their own style to it, but the basic story beats are all the same, because the story was already written by King. So... I'm not sure the example fits the theory. Comparing movie director styles to book reading is not a plot vs. pants thing. Although I will say CARRIE had one of King's better endings. (His endings are a weakness, and that sometimes proves to be true of pantsers, though not exclusively.)"

"As an aside (kind of), I'd love to see a breakdown of planners/pantsers and how-it-happens/what-happens people alongside a Meyers-Briggs breakdown
I'd bet the planners are J-types and the pantsers are P-types!"  

"Plotter here, and I agree that I fit into this pattern exactly. It's the journey, not the destination, and all that. Knowing the end of a movie or book NEVER makes me want to see/read it less. Sometimes, when I'm watching a movie at home, I'll just google the ending because I can't stand the suspense and it helps me 'enjoy the ride' better, haha. Plus, I find I'm really good at predicting what will happen in a story -- like I usually have a sense, very early, of how things will turn out. So, I'm very rarely watching or reading to find out 'what happens' -- I'm usually in it to find out 'how it happens.' I'm weird, I know. But I think this is pretty insightful. ETA: Thinking about this more -- I'm also someone who can watch the same movies, or TV reruns, OVER AND OVER. Case in point: I saw the last Hunger Games movie five times in the theater. I've seen Grey's Anatomy (all 9 seasons) start to finish about 5 times. Lol, so knowing what happens reeeeally doesn't bother me. Perhaps I am an extreme case."

"As a writer, I've always been caught up in the 'what happens next' aspect. I've been stingy with reveals and loathe to hint at events for fear of dropping a spoiler. And yet ... now I'm just finishing up the last episode in a retelling of a well-loved classic. EVERYBODY knows what happens! I'm finding people enjoy two things about a retelling - seeing how it happens in this version, and also reliving their own idea of the story in the way it knocks against mine. In other words, it's all about the ride, not the destination. Both are valid focal points, the ride and the destination. Actually, that might explain why people like genre conventions and get mad when the conventions aren't respected. They want the ride they bought the ticket for."

"I'm a little of both, I think. I am 80 percent pantser and 20 percent plotter. I have several landmarks in my head of what I'm writing towards, but those landmarks are ALWAYS subject to change. For me most of the joy of writing is finding out what happens next, which would be in line with your theory. But with several major points in the arc of my series that I know my characters are going to get to, I often wonder how as well."

"When I'm on the receiving end as a reader or TV/movie watcher, I'm totally a 'how it happens' kind of person. I drive my husband INSANE because I will read all the spoilers and wiki entries on TV shows/movies, and I've been known to flip to the end of the book while I'm reading it to know the ending. But I always enjoy the journey regardless of whether I know what's going to happen or not. Knowing the end doesn't take one iota away from my enjoyment. As a pantster writer through and through I should know by now (22 books and counting) that my characters dictate my story as I go along. I can try to plot, but when they make the story come alive they go where they want to go, and they often surprise me. That does make it fun for me. Stressful sometimes because I don't know where I'm going, but as long as I trust that they do, it always seems to work out."

"If my interest is flagging in a book, I'll flip to the last chapter. If it is compelling, I'll go back to find out how the author got there. I'm so glad I'm not alone."

"I'm a pantser, but there is a bit of plotting involved. It fits my philosophy of when things go sideways, embrace the sideways."

"I definitely discover what happens next by pantsing my way along. But I don't pants because it would take the joy out of things to outline; I pants because I simply can't figure out what happens next if I'm not actually writing it. It's actually sort of annoying. I wish I could be a plotter."

"I panted the first two parts of my current serial. It was so fun discovering as I went along. But as I came to the middle of the last installment, I hit a wall. I thought, 'How am I going to tie up all these loose ends?' So... I ended up outlining the rest. It will need a lot of editing to tighten the story. I don't think I'll pants again. While finding what happens is fun, it can lead down a confusing, disjointed path."

"I try to be a plotter, because I think I'll be more efficient in my word count, but when I plot, it feels like the characters are acting in certain ways to serve that plot and it feels like my writer's 'strings' are showing. When I get tired of that and finally say 'chuck it,' (or something similar) then the characters manage to resolve things on their own. 
I wish I was a plotter, but it's a battle."

I used to think I was a pantser, but reading this thread makes me feel I'm actually a hybrid pantser (80% pantser/20% plotter sounds about right). I have been accosted in bookstores by little old ladies who tell me I shouldn't read the last page of a book. But I'm reading it to find out the 'what' so I can better enjoy the 'how.' I adore spoilers of all sorts, but they only add to my enjoyment not take away from it. I always tell people that it's impossible to spoil a plot for me. There are hundreds of movies and books that I enjoy over and over. When I write, my characters usually take me on their journey. I simply record it. But I usually have a main arc in mind.

"I'm an absolute pantser but I don't think that there's any more to it than that happens to be my writing process.  I feel like I get into the head of my characters, they 'speak' to me and I'm the scribe.  When I try to nudge them into things, they push back (and on one occasion stopped talking to me at all for 3 days!), so I need to listen to the story they tell me and write it down. For the record, I love both what happens stories and how they happen stories, it's just that mine happen by pantsing."

"I still haven't written enough to think I've settled into a permanent writing groove, but so far I've mostly pantsed.  Getting sucked into my own imagination, and letting that dictate where the story goes as I'm writing it, is a lot of fun for me... at least, it's fun when things are flowing.  But I tend to spend a lot of time tapping into that flow, and sometimes I feel more immersed than others. I've been thinking about plotting a story out, to see if it's less laborious for me to do the writing.  Maybe I'll try it soon."

"Perhaps it also depends on the genre? It seems thrillers, with their intricate plots and plenty of twists and turns, require more outlining than other genres. I've tried both outlining and pantsing, but have discovered that for some odd reason my outlining brain and my writing brain seem disconnected. The outlining-me doesn't seem to know what the writing-me is capable of, and therefore I've sometimes spent weeks outlining, only to discover once I started writing, that I couldn't write that story. It just didn't fit my writing chops and sensibilities. And vice versa, once I start writing, I tend to come up with plots and stories that I would never have been able to conceive in the outlining stage."

"I've been trying to outline to Blake Snyder's beat sheet, and I get pretty good outlines. After that I really kind of let loose, but I like to have that direction early. Plus I like to know where my reversals are coming. These can come to you when you're working on the fly, and the spontaneous aspect of them is great, but that outline is nice to have. Really though, I seem to make it then not look at it much except for a reference list when I need a character's last name, a building name, address, or some other small detail I try to have on that cheat sheet."

"I used to plot intensely, to the extent of having a couple of lines detailing events in each and every chapter of my novels before even switching on my computer to write the first draft. It worked very well, but ... now I only do about a third as much plotting, so that I have a series of major points I know I have to get to in order for the story to flow coherently. Other than that, I have become something of a pantster. I've discovered that new twists and character traits emerge more naturally for me by doing things that way. However, I must always have a beginning, middle and end firmly in my mind before starting the first draft, so the idea that the journey is the key to the enjoyment doesn't quite work for me yet ( as an author, not a reader ). Having an ending makes sure I'm always moving toward that ending, and not wandering aimlessly as I write. Maybe I'm both a plotter and a pantster now: a plonster ... ?"

"This is the problem with this discussion. You've assumed that plotting = structure, and no plotting = no structure, and that's false. It's just as easy to meander when you are plotting as it is when you are pantsing, and you can both learn to structure as a pantser (or have an innate sense of it), as well edit to a balanced finished product. I can name several devout plotters who are meanderers or who had serious structure problems. Just because you've put something in an outline doesn't mean the reader needs it or will care about it. It happens on both sides. The real problem with many writers is killing their darlings, not whether that book was plotted. And some big authors get to a point where editors either don't challenge them, or the publishing company just doesn't care (I'm really not sure, probably both happen). Both sides have to cut the fat in places."

"I switch between pantsing and plotting between whatever genre I'm writing, but I have pantsed thrillers. I guess I'm a weirdo. I have a pretty good memory though, so I tend to tie up everything (sometimes without realizing it at first). It's harder for me when switching POVs, especially 3+ POVs, to pants, so that's when I tend to plot. I definitely have way more fun pantsing. I am setting up my next series in one POV, and in a more episodic style, just so I can pants it."

"Pantsers don't have to write in order. They also can edit afterward. I don't even bother writing my first chapter first when I'm plotting. It makes much more sense to me to write that last or close to last."

"I'm a bit of a hybrid. I don't start writing before I know the end of the story. I also know the major turns. I write nothing down, but maybe that still counts as plotting. What happens in between the major turns, and how they happen, I sort of discover while writing. In that respect I'm a pantser maybe. In short: I plot the what and I'm a pantser in as far as the how is concerned."

"I enjoy dreaming the stuff up. Thinking of some creepy thing that happens to someone, and then thinking of some way to work that into the story. I also enjoy setting a character loose and following along for a while, though, I find I end up cutting a lot of stuff that way. 
I guess I'm a hybrid."

"I've turned into a Micro-plotter, meaning that every day before I start to write I work out with pen and paper what a scene is about, what HAS to happen and what CANNOT happen. Also, I know from the beginning how a story will end. I need that."

"The above theory comports with why I'm a pantser and, more so, why I became a writer and significantly reduced the amount of reading I do for enjoyment (seemed like everything I was reading, I knew the end before I was a third in -- and TV is so much worse when you can guess whodunnit based on the guest actors cast on some shows). I don't like knowing how it turns out until I finish -- then I go back and add a few lines here or there so it doesn't feel like it's coming completely out of left field to the reader. I have to learn to become a 'how it happens' writer, though, because I need to write longer and not get block the minute I decide how to end it."

"I'm one of those people that will end friendships if you spoil the ending of a movie for me.  I don't want to know what happens before I experience it!  I want to have all the joy of discovery all to myself! And I consider my best works to be the ones I have pants.  I have fallen on plotting times due to the need for speed and oversight and such.  But when I'm at the top of my game, it is when I just sit down at the keyboard and type, discovering twists and turns I couldn't possibly have figured out ahead of time."

"Like someone already said, pansters can revise, so there's absolutely no reason one of their books couldn't open with a passage that requires knowledge of the entire plot. Pantsing vs. plotting is just one's mechanism for coming up with a first draft. Not very many of us can publish unrevised first drafts and have them be anything but a steaming pile of poo. I certainly can't. Since I come up with the plot as I draft, I revise very heavily. The "cuts" file for my WIP stands at about 25K words, and the manuscript itself is only 116K."

"I believe the events of a story should add up to something. That involves planning and structure. Otherwise it's just a lot of stuff happening that may or may not have any underlying meaning. Some of that pants'd writing is great and entertaining - especially short stories - but longer novels that are pants'd often seem unfocused and meandering with tacked on conclusions 
(yeah, I'm talking about you, Stephen King and George Martin.)"

"The more I read pantser/plotter discussions, the more I think there aren't two separate camps, that we all fall somewhere on a continuum. There are pantsers who say they go into things knowing only a few plot points, but there are outliners who describe their outlines as that sketchy too. I read a book on her writing by Elizabeth George, and her outlines are so detailed she all but writes the book twice. On the other extreme are pantsers who simply start writing with nothing but a character or two or a starting scene. Most of us fall somewhere in between. As to the original theory of the thread, as an outliner I'd be a data point in favor. Until Kindle made it too difficult, I always read the last page or two of any book I was considering. That was my reaction to Gone With the Wind. However, as someone else said, I'm writing romance, so of course generally speaking the outcome is known from the start."

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