Writing Wednesday: Plotter or Pantser?

I asked a couple of weeks ago for writing-related questions and Rebecca asked:

How much planning do you do before you start writing a new novel?

When I thought about answering, I thought ‘none’, but that’s not really true. I don’t do much planning on paper, not before I start writing anyway, but I do do a lot of planning in my head.

I usually know the names of the characters and what they look like. I also know where they live (setting is very important to me). I have a very small snippet of what the book will be about, for example for DELLA SAYS: OMG I knew it was about Della feeling inferior to her sister and insecure around boys. For JESSIE ♥ NYC I knew it was about a boy who was in love with his best friend’s girlfriend. With the book I’m about to start editing (working title HAPPY ENDING, but that has smutty connotations so will have to change) I knew it was about a girl feeling trapped in a small town and the “big world” coming to her rather than her having to go out into it (I say I “knew” that, but I actually only just articulated it just now, which is why the last sentence isn’t very articulate!).

But what I didn’t know with Della for example is who had taken her diary. I was probably three quarters through writing the book – and starting to panic – before I worked it out.

I wish I could sit down and plot out each chapter because then I would know what I was writing next instead of all the flailing I do, but when I’ve tried to plot it just hasn’t worked out for me. I much prefer to just see what comes up as I write. No matter how much I moan about it.

What about you? Plotter or pantser?

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14 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday: Plotter or Pantser?

  1. With as-yet-unpublished-and-still-being-fiddled-with Book 1, I knew that a and b were going to get together. That was about it. The arrival of a whole subplot about seal rescuing was news to me.

    I did get a huge piece of paper and check all the scenes with post-it notes afterwards, to make sure it worked, but I tended to plan each chapter as it happened.

    Book 2 – well, I know she’s a vet, and she’s a single mother with one child. And I know he’s a gardener. And that’s it, so far. They’re wandering around in my head, growing, at the moment.

  2. If I have to have a label then a pantser, but it sounds far more haphazard than it is. I usually, like yourself, have some of the characters identified, I have a setting and ideas around the themes and some of the main plot points, but I find a book grows organically. My books are more like millefeuille than raspberry tarts. Yes that’s it, I’m a millefeuiller.

    1. That’s exactly it, Claire – a book grows organically. That’s why I could never be a plotter – the one time I tried to do it, it didn’t work out at all.

  3. Same. I’m relieved at your ‘panic’ because I get like that 3/4 of the way through, thinking ‘yeah… AND…? AND?’ and then, somehow it all starts falling into place….like… ‘organically’… IS that what that means?
    I can’t even plot my way back to the car at a shopping centre.

  4. I plot about five chapters ahead and I always know how it will end. Probably because my books tend to have a twist and the twist is the first thing I think of, the spark of the idea.

    Anyway, left this comment to say have you seen the film Happy Endings? One of my modern favourites.

  5. I have had three proper writing attempts and they have all ended in failure. I think with each one the problem was that I was taking the principle of being a pantser to the absolute extreme and started writing without a clue of what I was trying to write.

    I’m about to go for attempt number four and this time I’m actually trying to plan a little more. I still don’t know everything that’s going to go (the characters haven’t told me that yet) but I do have an idea of the overall plot arc, and they keep telling me about things that are going to happen along the way. I have no idea how all the bits are going to connect up but I do know that I feel the most positive and prepared that I ever have to begin to try.

    It’s interesting to see other commenters all falling on the panster side of the fence to some degree or other.

    1. Oh yes, you do need an idea at least! 🙂

      But I agree with Meg Cabot that the risk of plotting too much is that you can feel like you’ve written the book before you’ve started and then the excitement’s gone.

      1. I like that thought 🙂 It makes a lot of sense, even though I’m trying to be a bit more planned I don’t think I could plan it out to any great level of detail.

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