The Pantser is a Secret Plotter. Don’t you know that?

So many times I hear the argument that you should always plot out your books. My own editor growls at me incessantly when I start talking about some new project and can’t tell her all the details, and I do mean all. Well, tough. The details sometimes elude me for months on end.

Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson

Traditionally, the plotter will work out all the details for their stories long before they sit down at the keyboard and write: the plot outline, character profiles, the landscape of their worlds, all of it. For some, this works extremely well. It does have the advantage of keeping characters on track, heading toward that ultimate goal, however if a plotter over-plans the story, then the writing might feel forced. The story might become boring to the writer and they lose motivation. Being the plotter requires discipline, determination and mind that is ordered to start with. Brandon Sanderson is known to plot his novels before writing. Dan Brown is too.

Stephen King

Stephen King

However, plotting is not for everyone. Some writers will have a vague idea when they sit down at the keyboard and let the mood of their writing just take over — riding by the seat of their pants. The characters take over and tell their own story. This method is extremely organic as the stories take more twists and turns, often down roads that one would never expect. However, pantsers, as they’re called, can be prone to writer’s block, or become frustrated when a character suddenly goes left when the writer wants to go right. It can lead to unfinished stories, or even worse, stories that are so confusing to read. But those people that insist that to be successful as a writer that you need to be a plotter, I have news for you. Stephen King is a pantser.

Brad Thor

Brad Thor

However, there is another type of writer that is becoming more and more prominent. The hybid writer will have an overall arc in mind for their stories, but it’s not until they sit down to write the story that the details become clear; they pants their way through the details. Writers such as Brad Thor confess that they are part of this hybrid category.

It’s the hybrid method that seems to attract the writer in me the most. When I first started writing, way back when, it was pantsing all the way. It was a release from the real world pressures and my imagination just took me along for the ride. Some of my best work has been written with this pantsing methodology in mind. However, when working with such a large world, whether it be in my high fantasy or military science-fiction, I have found that a rough structure of how a character gets from A to B is required, just to keep the story moving forward. But even that can be easily derailed if the characters head down the left fork when I was expecting them to take the right.

My editor tells me off whenever I say this to her. “Your characters are not real people. Your problem is that you didn’t plot enough. Go back and plot!” Well… Raspberries, and lots of them. I’m not a plotter and to take my writing down any other road would be like telling a football player that they must be a ballerina. They may take ballet as part of their training, but they were meant to play football.

I have found myself plotting more and more, but only with the overall arc so I know where a story is heading. If a character somehow manages to survive the massacre I had planned and decides to lead the rebellion instead, then so be it. The story becomes more interesting, and I still get to my final goal: bringing down the big, bad demons so that those who fight for freedom can live to see a new day. The only difference is that now I have a bad-ass army to play with.

Whether you are the plotter, pure-blood pantser or a hybrid, never let anyone try to convince you that there is only one way to become that successful writer. I may write the genre of Brandon Sanderson or Stephen King, but I would love to have the following that Brad Thor has any day. If I can become just half as successful as any of the three, all my dreams would come true.


P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter or Facebook.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

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