Friday, October 16, 2009

Plotter Vs Pantser - A Race to "The End'...

Well, it’s a beautiful day here on Computer Lane where our contestants are lining up for the first annual Race To The End. I’m Charlie Chapter welcoming you to our telecast of this most literary event. We’re minutes away from the starting gun so let’s go down to our track side correspondent, Bonnie Blurb. Bonnie, how are the contestants handling the pressure?

Charlie? Wow, it is noisy down here. The eraser mascot has the crowd on their feet. Let’s take a listen.

"Where are we going?"

"The. End."

"Where are we going?"

"The. End."

"Louder! Where are we going?"

Bonnie, let’s get back to the race.

Sorry, Charlie. He’s just so cute and so pink. The race co-ordinators couldn’t have picked a better cheerleader. Our race today is between two novelists. Pantser is jumping up and down, swinging her arms, working out the kinks in what looks like a pre-race ritual. Plotter has gathered a variety of materials with her at the starting line and looks to be going through a checklist. I’m going to try and get over there and have a closer look. Excuse me. Oh, he’s kind of rubbery.

Did you just goose the eraser, Bonnie?

Of course not. Here we are. Looks like she’s checking off various file folders. Plotter? Plotter? What’s your strategy going into the race?

Slow and steady. The trophy’s mine.

Oh, did you see that? Pantser just scoffed Plotter’s way. Pantser? Do you have any last minute words for your competition?

Eat my dust, baby. Eat. My. Dust.

What have you done to prepare for the race?

Prepare? Prepare? OK, I have a character in mind, but anything more would just be a waste of my time.

There you have it, Charlie. Should be an interesting event.

Yes, indeed, Bonnie. The starter is calling the racers forward and there’s the gun. Pantser’s off like a shot, fingers flying across the keyboard. She’s definitely out to win this race, I’ve never seen a writer jump from the blocks with such speed and enthusiasm. Looks like Plotter is indeed eating her dust as that writer has yet to step over the starting line. Bonnie, has Plotter misunderstood the intention of the race?

No, Charlie, she’s started, you just can’t see it from where you’re sitting. She has a file marked character information and is right now listing traits for her heroine. I believe she has a couple of categories, let’s get a closer look. Very detailed, very organized, Charlie. There’s a column for eye color, hair color, goal, motivation, conflict, quirks, family relations, friends, and even one for most embarrassing moment. I can see that the file also contains bio sheets for the hero and secondary characters, too.

She’s going to be there for a while, Bonnie. This doesn’t look good for Plotter. Pantser has finished 30 pages already and it looks like there’s no stopping her. I swear I’ve never seen such keyboard dexterity. Impressive.

Charlie, Plotter’s taken a step forward. She’s written a first paragraph and is off the startline. Wait! She’s pulled out another file folder, this one marked Outline. Wow, this girl’s done some preliminary work. I believe she’s pulling out a scene/sequel file folder now and highlighters. Wow, this is organization at it’s finest.

Organized or not, Bonnie, she still hasn’t moved far from that starting line while Pantser is on her hundredth page. Has anyone seen a chapter heading? Anyone? Someone check the tape, see if we can pinpoint a place in the manuscript where she’s finished chapter one. This could be a setback, folks. No chapters mean she’ll have to stop and reread to determine where her chapters’ should start and stop.

As you can see, Charlie, Plotter has finished her first chapter in the ‘three act’ formula. She’s checking another file: synopsis. Color coordinated to match the outline and scene/sequel work. Very meticulous and –

Sorry to interrupt, Bonnie, but Pantser has stalled. She’s come to a complete stop, her hands poised over her keyboard. This doesn’t look good. Let’s get a close-up. Ouch, mid-sentence stall no less. Not sure what she’s going to do – oh, no, she’s opened up a new word document with a tracking note on the original about twenty pages back. And she’s off again. Whew, I thought she was dead in the water, there.

Cliché aside, Charlie, it still has allowed Plotter to gain some ground. She’s on a roll, pounding out some impressive page numbers. She, too, is using the tracking feature, making notes at various stages with reference back to her files. I love how she’s explored her options in the pre-writing stage. She’s definitely come to win.

Bonnie, this looked like a runaway, but Pantser has stopped mid-type again. She’s re-reading her entire work, right from the beginning. This is devastating. She’s looking over her shoulder and she can see that Plotter is closing in. There’s no room for error if Pantser wants to win this race. But she’s still reading. Another dead-end. This will close the gap and may prove to be the RITA turning point. Bonnie, can Plotter see how close she is to overtaking Pantser? Bonnie?Bonnie?


Did you just write your number on that eraser?

Maybe. You certainly don’t call anymore.

You’re never home. If you spent more time there than in the bars trying to pick – what? Oh. Ahem. Looks like Pantser has found her stride and is racing to the end full speed ahead. Judges are going to have verify, but we may be looking at our winner, folks. Plotter doesn’t seem ruffled, still moving along in a very structured way. Here it is…The race is still going, folks. Pantser has a disorganized, messy first draft and will need to spend time revising in order for our judges to claim the novel finished. Looks like Plotter knew that all along as she managed to make up some ground while the judges deliberated.

This is going to be close, Charlie. As Pantser revises and edits, Plotter continues on at a slow and steady pace. I see her strategy is working after all. She’s pulling up along side and you can see the smile blossoming. She knows she has this thing in the bag. Well played.

Don’t count Pantser out just yet, Bonnie. She’s done some quick reading and I’m amazed at her post-it note talent. Wow, she’s working hard obviously not willing to concede to Plotter. They’re neck and neck down the backstretch. This is going to be close. Both of them are writing like crazy, both re-reading to check for continuity. What started out as a run away has turned into a nailbiter.

The crowd is on their feet, Charlie. You can barely hear yourself think as they urge the writers on. Plotter is doing one last check of her files and laying down the final scene. Pantser has flipped back to the first chapter, now that she has chapter headings, and is making a small change there. Looks like…could be…there it is…


Bonnie? Bonnie? Can you get a word from our winners?

Pantser? How was it? What’s going through your mind right now?

Wow, that was intense. But I went with the flow and had the freedom to explore my characters and plot and I’m pretty proud of my game. I don’t like to be that rigid.

Plotter? Come on over. How about you, how are you feeling?

Tired, but excited. I stuck with my game plan of structure, structure, structure and I’m happy with the results.

Back to –

And I’d also like to say that I, too, allowed for some exploration. I had to deviate from my original outline at the 2/3rds mark due to a plot point I hadn’t thought of. I’m not that anal.

Have you ever used storyboards?

Ooh, I have a great storyboard template that would work really well with your writing style…

Well, there you have it, Charlie. Seems Plotter and Pantser have some after race tips to share with each other. Oh, and there’s eraser waiting for me. Back to you, Charlie.

That just rubs me the wrong way. Well folks, that’s it from me, Charlie Chapter. Happy writing.

So, People of Blogland, plotters or pantsers? Or a combination of both? For those who aren’t sure, here’s a link - the bottom of the post there are two schools of thought and an exercise for both methods. See which one works best for you – could be a combination (see Fiction Groupie to see if you're a 'clark'). And because we’re doing sports analogy – what’s your favorite sport?



Helena said...

Wonderful post, Janet. Very fun to read, and cleverly imbedded with lots of good tips.

I think I'm a combination plotter-pantser. I do a fairly detailed outline, of the story but not necessarily chapter by chapter. That happens more by chance than anything first time through. I do character profiles and chronologies. No story boards yet.

Then, I am more of a pantser once I start writing because I don't outline all the action for every scene in advance. So, inevitably I find myself in the middle of a scene that I never would have imagined -- sometimes takes me off track, but that's not all bad. An angle I hadn't thought of sometimes just rears its head, and I just have to write it in case it is a really good addition to the plot.

You're definitely right about this method, or the pure pantser, needing more revision than the strict plotter.

You have used the analogy of a race for your post. As it happens, altho I enjoy team sports like hockey and football, I do particularly enjoy Formula One auto racing. There's lots of 'plotting' required beginning with the construction of the car, then deciding on race strategy -- so up to this point it's very much a team effort -- then the driver gets in the car and implements the strategy and pure driving talent takes over. Really exciting!!

I'm off to the SWG conference this weekend, and will see you in Surrey within a week. Can't wait.

Gabby said...

Loved this post as well - entertaining as well as informative.

I'd have to say that I'm a natural plotter. I like having an outline to keep me on track. However, I am known to stray from time to time.

I'll pick golf for my sport (not sure if it's an actual sport but it works for me). In golf, there's always a goal - something to aim for but getting there can sometimes be a journey into the unknown.

Karyn Good said...

Very clever, Janet. LOL!

I have to say at this point I'm a panster but I'd like to find a way to use some plotting methods, too. Although I would say a lot of plotting happens in my head before I start something.

Favorite sport? At the moment, football. Sorry, no clever reason except have you seen these guys. They come in every shape and size!

Silver James said...

Janet, you always crack me up! I'm...a writer. LOL. I'm not sure how to label what I do other than call it organic. I know my main characters' "characters" going in. I have a handle on setting, place, and time. I know where the story starts and I think I know where the story is going to end--vaguely, anyway. Is any of this written down? In folders or a storyboard? I might have photos for my MCs. I do have a white board for quick notes and sticky notes for the bulletin board. But mostly, I sit down and let the words form in my imagination, then they flow through my fingertips to paint my vision in sentences upon the blank canvas of my computer monitor. I seem to innately know when a chapter should end and the next one begin; when a new character needs to be introduced; when more conflict should be added.

Does that make me more talented, lucky, or cursed than any other writer? I have no clue. I listen to other writers and think, "I wish *I* could write like that!" This is the process that works for me. Trying to force Iffy and TR into any other mode just doesn't work.

I can't wait to hear all the reports from Surrey! Y'all are going to have wonderful times!

Silver James said...

Crappola. Favorite sport...Fastpitch softball, simply because The Only was so good at it and it's such an amazing sport for women. A very close second is baseball!

Janet said...

Thanks, Helena - another one of those 'should I post?' posts. Glad you liked it.

I love how every writer is different - every one takes something that works and incorporates it into her routine. And the link I gave (testing which you are) is really great for those that may be starting out or who want to know if a more structured routine would work for them, or a more go with the flow one.

I truly believe a writer must stay open to the possibility of discovery. One never knows when a heroine will head off in another direction or a secondary character will appear, altering the whole gist of your story.

Not much into auto racing, but your description is interesting. Never thought of it before in terms of planning, then pantsing. Maybe a good routine for a writer to adopt.

Janet said...

Hey, Gabby. I like that - a natural plotter. Interesting to compare the way we write to our daily life. I used to be a planner - notes, to do lists, structure. Now, I try to go with the flow, but the temptation to go back to that scheduling is always present. At times, even though I love to just write and see where the characters take me, I itch to plot out scenes, and I've been known to write character bios. The problem with that, for me anyway, is that I get caught up in that and the story doesn't get written. Perhaps I overplan?

Golf! I took up golf to have time with my husband (who's nuts about the game) and while I enjoyed it - especially the great shots, those kept me coming back - it's not something I miss. I like your descripion as it pertains to writing: a goal to aim for, but the journey is unknown.

Janet said...

Karyn - interesting that you say you'd like to incorporate some plotting devices in your writing routine. I wrote the pantser thinking of you - I know we've talked about storyboards. And I know that we both struggle (sorry if I'm assuming on your part, correct me if I'm wrong) with the revision process. It's a long and often times difficult job when you've written that messy, disorganized first draft. But, on the other hand, at least we have a first draft to revise :)

Football players can be might fine. I don't mind watching a bit of football myself :)

Janet said...

I bow down to your natural storytelling skill, Silver. You talked about chapter endings and the instinct you utilize - my polished first draft (after I did some editing, revising for plot points and was ready for people to read it) had chapter endings that most of my betas commented on. They loved the cliff hangers I usually ended with - a writing style I love when I read, get me to go on to the next chapter, stay up all night. Afterwards, some other writers suggested that I change my chapters so that they were more arcs/three act sections. Somehow, I've never been happy with that.

Hayley - what were you saying on your blog about breaking the rules?

Never really got into baseball (or softball), but I confess I will watch for the simple pleasure of men in tight pants. Is that bad?

connie said...

Hi Janet,
Loved the post! Was it a pantser or a plotter?

If I can't sleep, I tell myself stories featuring Me and some hero - usually a nice guy, relaxed, able to handle anything. He is good looking, but not gorgeous and definitely not blond. (my first husband was blond and may he go bald in patches).

I figure some way to get them married and then get a nice conflict going. It's seat-of-the-pants from there.

Endings are usually weak because I am tired of 'darling come to bed scenes' or 'we're going to have a baby', (at which he gets all syrupy, doesn't care if its a boy or girl- but, neverthenonetheless, the kid will be a warrior). Too many endings are like that.

I haven't figured out what the latest two are going to get to The End. Maybe they will come forward in time, find out about income tax forms and go back...
Sport: I don't have one. Mostly, the dog and I go for walks carrying a BIG cannister of pepper spray to ward off bears. Norwegian Elkhounds are born to bring bears and moose back to the hunter. This gives me aerobic exercise as my heart goes crazy at the slightest sound. Did you know bear spray is only good at a distance of four yards? Think I will take up a sport....

Hayley E. Lavik said...

I'm another writer that has to take the easy answer of 'a bit of both.' My process isn't as haphazard as a clark, necessarily, but it's definitely that mix, and I've often compared it to a road final destinations just don't often get completely ruined.

I tend to plot on a short scale and long scale, if that makes any sense. I have a vague idea, or sometimes a rough outline, for a scene when I start it, depending how coordinated it needs to be, but I allow things to stay fairly fluid between scenes and change as new options emerge. At the same time though, I'll also be plotting way ahead, getting key scenes in my mind (I've had the black moment and the end of the book down in detail for ages) and playing them out over and over, and then I just need to fill in the scenes that lead between those key points.

Karyn Good said...

You assume correctly. :) Now, I'm off to finish completely rewriting chapter seven.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Man, did I miss your humour over the summer, Janet.

I am a both. I tried to be a real plotter and took that course in June but all it seemed to do was stifle my creativity.

I've gone back to making an outline, doing my character sketches, pinning down my setting and season and then just letting my creativity flow.

Wonderful job bringing the 2 views to life.

Janet said...

Hey, Connie - this post was a total pantser. I seem to do my best work that way. Of course, after I got started with the idea, I did a little research on the web to make a list of what things plotters use in their strategy. That way I could go back and flesh out my ideas.

Bear spray, four yards? I'd suggest you take up sprinting - or hope you can outrun your dog (isn't that an old joke?). I love to walk, too. Usually my best stuff comes from letting my mind wander on my walks - also good to help when I'm stuck.

Janet said...

Good luck, Karyn :)

Janet said...

I think your routine is very well thought out and really has developed from your dedication to writing. Time allows one to get into a groove - incorporating things that work and dismissing those that don't. Routine is just that - a ritual that evolves over time until it becomes ingrained.

Like the idea of comparing writing to a road trip. Destination in mind, open to adventureand detours.

Janet said...

Oops, that last comment was for Hayley :)

Janet said...

Thanks, Anita. I really enjoyed writing this post. Chuckled a few times myself :)

It's great that you've found what works and what doesn't. Like I said to Hayley, having a routine really helps solidify a process. And you're lucky - you tried out another way, discovered it wasn't your cup of tea, and moved on. Some of us just wonder if there's another way, never really pursuing it to find out if it would work.

Glad you liked it, Anita :)

connie said...


I could work a bear into my story couldn't I? Hero would be second to last. Gets her out of my way!

Maybe not. Bears are out of fashion since the local cougar killed a horse on the farm across the road and a mile west of the cottages.

No wonder I prefer Medievals where everyone is a hunter and the girls are much better at it than the boys. (Actually I am pretty good at archery)

Karen, Helena, Janet
Definitely football! Better bums er I meant biceps

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
What a hoot! Yes, we definitely missed you over the summer. So good to have you back.

I think I'm a bit of a combination of the two, with a little more emphasis on the plotter. I have an outline and character sketches, and like Anita said, I know where my setting is going to be when I start writing. I need some preparation and direction, or else I tend to stare at the blinking cursor a lot. But not too much. I tried using scene cards, really plotting out every scene, but that didn't work for me. Sometimes I find that unexpected things pop up in the writing and you just have to go with them.

My favorite sport? I'm not much of an athelete but I have taken up golf in the last few years. Like you, I started playing golf to be with my husband, but it's not an obsession with me like it is with him. My favorite human sport to watch is football. Men in tight pants. What's not to like? But my favorite sport overall to watch is horseracing. Love it! My family took me to Assiniboine Downs for the first time this summer. I love betting on the ponies!


Janet said...

Thanks, Jana. I can see you being more of a plotter - but I love that you've found exactly what works for you and use it to create heartwarming stories. I really think we all find, in our own time, what works for us. And that may not work for others.

I knew you'd say golf. But horseracing? Wow, didn't see that coming. I haven't watched much horseracing - and I'm not much of a betting person. Isn't there a formula or different kinds of bets? I'd get mixed up - I have a hard time remembering the rules to Cribbage.