So, we’re discussing the two options for writing a novel (or any story, really): pantsing (writing by the seat of your pants, with no plan or very little plan) and plotting (exactly what it sounds like). Now, I can see the merit of both sides. As a panster, you are not worried about where the story will go. The characters and plot will carry you along with them, and if they don’t, then you’re doing it wrong. As a plotter, you have a good idea of where the story starts and ends, as well as most (if not all) stops along the way. Depending on how much you plan, you might have scenes plotted very carefully or just in a general sense.
However, there are flaws to both these approaches. If you pants a story, you run the risk of not having any idea where your story is going or what you want it to accomplish. The project, which may have had great potential, dies quickly. Plotting a story can be just as bad. We all know that our characters change over time; the develop their own little quirks and tend to surprise their authors. If you’ve plotted your story too closely, then there’s not much room to maneuver. You know that conversation X must occur with upshot Y for plot point Z to be accomplished, but if your character decides to steer the conversation to upshot Q or even refuses/avoids the conversation at all, all your plotting after that is completely useless.
You see, most of my stories (and last year’s atrocious NaNo) were pantsed. I didn’t have a plan, just an idea. I followed my plot bunnies through their terrifying maze of tunnels, and if I was lucky, I came up with a decent story. I never knew where I would end up, and for short stories, that’s okay. In my NaNo, however, elements from the first few chapters are lost or forgotten later on, and there’s nothing to tie it all together. I was throwing random events onto the page, with no plan, and it didn’t turn out well. So this year, I’m going to try something different that I think will work much better.
Rather than choose one or the other option, I’m going to work with a sort of middle ground that I’ll call plantsing. In plantsing, I have a rough outline (and when I say rough, I mean that I know general direction–it’s a sideways-ish smudged streak that I glimpsed through a fog, in metaphorical terms), but within the confines of that rough outline, I have the freedom to let my characters go where they will. I might know that my FMC needs to meet my MMC to get to the mainland and progress to the next step, but I can take my sweet time getting to that point. I can meander as I please, so long as I get to the next step. If I ever feel like the plot is slowing, I can look at that rough outline and determine that, okay, I’ve already established that FMC needs to talk to MMC and get to the mainland; I should get about to establishing contact between the two of them already. If I get totally stuck at one point, I can also pretend that my characters have done what they need to do (even if it’s not written) and skip on to the next point. I’ll fix it later when I edit; for now, the important part is moving from large point to large point, not quibbling over whether or not the MMC is a prince in disguise or not (I’m pretty sure he’s not…). It’s not important immediately, so I’ll get over it.
I honestly love the freedom of pantsing a story. Not knowing the ending makes writing the story even more exciting for me than it would be for a reader; after all, a reader can know that there is an end, while I’m not always guaranteed that. I love how my characters are free to develop and change the story according to how they’ve changed. I especially love (though sometimes mourn) the times when my characters surprise me. But I recognize that, for longer works especially, I need to have a concrete idea of where the story should be headed. I don’t have to stick to the outline if my characters start pulling me somewhere else, but until the plot and characters develop enough to stand on their own, they need direction.
It may be an odd way to do things. You may even just call this low-level plotting. But in my books, it is plantsing. Not one, not the other, but taking elements from both that I find useful. Remember, what works for someone else may not work for you. Until you find your method of getting your stories on the page (whether by plotting, pantsing, or plantsing), feel free to experiment. You lose nothing by trying new methods. And trust me, when you find what does work, you’ll know it. You won’t be able to understand how you wrote any other way.
Happy writing, all.