Greetings! I recently had some thoughts and doubts about plotting style.
My writing buddy is a strict plotter, who plans detailed outlines, while I’m more of a plantser. Even when I do draw out plot points, the story tends to wander off to more natural, more in-word, logical paths.
This process often has great results story-wise, but it also means that when my writing buddy’s progress rises like an air-force missile, I’m out here messing with heavy editing, launching entire characters into the trash, switching arcs like lightbulbs, and doing backflips with the magic system. If I’d say this has zero negative effects on my motivation, I would be a liar-pants.
Can a preferred plotting style become an obstacle? Where is the line between “you should just polish it a bit more” and “you should try something else”? And in the latter case, is it right to fear that forcing a different style on myself would kill the joy of writing?
Thanks for the advice, as always!Róka
That’s a great question, and you’re certainly not alone in wondering about it. Many discovery writers end up questioning if they should plan more or are told by a mentor that they should. At the end of the day, this comes down to the individual. You’re going to have to experiment to find the best process for you.
However, I can tell you about the wide range of answers out there. Some writers who love the discovery process have begrudgingly tried planning, only to find it makes their stories much better and they want to stick to it. Other writers find their motivation for writing that first draft depends on not knowing the ending, and they’ll never get through it if they plan the ending ahead. From my experience, the most typical case is that discovery writers slowly migrate toward planning over the years. They’ll start with a very loose plan and slowly add detail.
If the heavy revisions are getting you down, it’s probably worth asking why you’re deviating from the plans you do make. You mentioned your deviations are more natural and logical in-world. This might be a matter of doing more worldbuilding and character development in advance or just thinking through those plot points more. Ironically, this can also be a matter of planning too little rather than too much. Sometimes, we come up with a big plot point, but once we dive in, we don’t know how to make it work realistically. Adding more detail can allow us to catch those problems and revise the plan before we start drafting.
For other writers though, it may be a matter of getting excited about new directions the story could take. Some people have trouble finishing any story because they’re always chasing what’s new and shiny. The best I can recommend for this is taking a good measure of what you’re actually interested in exploring when you start and then centering your darling. This doesn’t protect you from new darlings that suddenly show up, but it could make you more excited about the plan you’re following.
If discovery writing helps motivate you to create that first draft or makes drafting more fun, there will be some risk in trying something new. However, if your revision process feels overly slow, unpleasant, or is even keeping you from finishing stories, then it’s probably worth experimenting. To start, try planning a short story or keeping your plans loose. You might even choose all of the important story arcs but leave how they resolve open. You don’t have to plunge into heavy-duty outlining all at once.
Best wishes with finding your one true process,
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Comments on Should I Outline Even If I Enjoy Pantsing?
Here is my work process for large projects, from beginning to end:
1. Come up w/ the idea – Usually this happens easily, though there are times when I will brainstorm
2. Develop the idea – I flesh it out, try different variants. I try to test basic assumptions here.. The main thing is to determine what I really like about the idea, and keep and build on that, thought sometimes the idea will end up warping into something new, and maybe even better
3. Preliminary research – Looking into stories and articles in the same field, see what the tropes are, what’s been done, what to try and what to avoid. A lot of factual research as well. Basically, what I need to know before I start
4. Write a quickie “outline” – I’m not a planner; mostly I’m a “pantser”. I write “by the seat of my pants”. But I’ll do a bare-bones outline, one or two lines for each major event, a character list, and cool lines or other things I’ll want to remember. I don’t bother even to finish this outline. It’s just enough to start
5. Actually start writing – While you don’t necessarily need to write stuff in order, especially if you have a good outline, I pretty much do go in order, though I’ll frequently go back and change stuff. I also modify and update the outline when I come up w/ new major characters, or to help w/ continuity for the big stuff, but I don’t really worry about that. The outline is just a guide, after all
6. Crash and burn – Something goes wrong, I realize the project is hopeless and worthless, and I quit. I don’t have to plan for this to happen; it’s unavoidable
7. Fall into a deep depression – I’m a total failure. Also unavoidable
Keep in mind that this is my process. You can, and probably should, develop your own
Hey, those last two steps are from MY process. Get your own!
I actually started out as a pantser/discovery writer well into my first novels, but over time I slowly shifted towards a new process, first by one sentence per chapter to see what would be in it, then by a short description for the chapter and now a description for every scene (which is easy in Scriverner, as I work on a scene basis).
My process today is:
1.) have an idea and open a new whiteboard file to throw things at a virtual wall to see what sticks.
2.) use the same whiteboard file for sketching out my story, writing down what I want to happen.
3.) move the things happening around until I like the sequence.
4.) open a new Scrivener project (or the one from the series, if there already is one) and plot out the scenes, chapter for chapter.
5.) let the project sit for too long while I try to get a few others finished.
6.) write the story (isn’t it fun that the longest part has the shortest description?).
7.) let the story sit for a while, occasionally reading it on my kindle (I turn finished projects into e-book files so I can read them at my leisure).
8.) do one round of content edit (usually enough) and 3 rounds of copy edit.
9.) publish the story (when Amazon lets me … the story was called “The Necromancer’s Notebook”, Amazon. It wasn’t a blank notebook, damnit!).
I do more plotting these days and find the outline getting more detailed. I experience the flow of creativity in the process of plotting out my story.
Where I have long recommended plotting out the story is
a) if you get stuck and don’t know where to go next. Chances are you have missed a plot point, or hit on too soon.
b) even when I write in full panster mode, I will often then outline the story to double check my structure. The important thing is to outline as you have written it, not how you have it in your head.
Pantsing, for me, *is* planning – but in my head, not on paper. I generally have an idea if where a scene should go or where I’m trying to go. But in the process of writing it down on paper or typing it, I find the story often expands in fascinating ways. It’s very strange.
So for me, the debate between pantsi g vs planning doesn’t really exist. Rather, as said, a writer should experiment to find what method works best for them.
Edit: *Pantsing* is the actual 1st word I meant, obviously.
Curses on auto-correct.
I re-read it before I posted & still didn’t catch that . . .
No worries, I have fixed it via Mythcreants powers!