Plotter or Pantser
Writers are generally in one of two camps: Plotters or Pantsers.
Either one is fine. Either one works. But in order to decide what works for you, you need to know a little bit about it.
Think of Plotters as those who create a map before they start along the journey of writing the novel. As you draft your novel, you read your map and follow the directions until you reach your destination: The End.
Pantsers are folks who hop in the car and go, turning right or left on a whim. They may have a general idea of where they want to go, or they may be happy with wherever they end up. Personally, I tend to be a pantser. For me, the true joy of writing is when the characters chatter away in my head and I feel as if I’m channeling them when I sit down at the keyboard. That said, I do more plotting now that I’m more serious about my writing.
Ways to Plot a Novel
- Outline: You’ve done outlines. Remember those outlines you wrote when you were back in school? Like that. Essentially, think of your novel as a three-part story. I. Beginning – II. Middle – III. End. Simple right? YES! Don’t try to make this too complicated. These are the basics, enough to get you started. Add subsections if you’d like, for the chapters, with scenes under that. My tip? Keep it simple, and don’t get too caught up in this step. You just need a general road map, not a turn by turn with maps. Drawback: this method is a little harder to reorder if you don’t like the way something flows.
- Sticky Notes: This works especially well if you have a big, blank wall. You can also use the back of a door, or even a big piece of poster board. Think of this as a storyboard for your novel. Again, keep it simple. You don’t need to write a note for every single scene. Just hit the high points. Think about things that move the story along, actions that need to happen to move your story from the beginning to the end. My tip? Use different colored sticky notes to represent different things such as POV.
- Index Cards: Holly Lisle offers excellent instructions on her website. In short, you will have an index card for each chapter, with different colors representing different POVs. Once you’ve got your index cards, you can move them around and come up with the best chronology to fit your story. My tip? Write how you want the chapter to end. That way, when you pick up an index card to write the chapter, you know where you’re going. See? There’s the map analogy again!
- PowerPoint: This is the index card method, for those who prefer computers to paper. Each slide will be a chapter. Again, you can move them around to tweak the chronology.
- Snowflake: This is the brainchild of Randy Ingermanson. The idea is to take the kernel of a story and build upon it, piece by piece, until you have a novel. Take a peek at his instructions and you’ll see that he recommends that you start with pre-writing, in order to lay the groundwork for writing your novel. Though this is technically plotting, it sure makes figuring out your plot a lot easier.
How to Pants a Novel
Okay, technically, if you’re a pantser, you just sit down and write. BUT . . . there are things you can do to make the process go a bit smoother.
Before you begin:
- Write character sketches
- Collect inspirational pictures of settings and characters, like this.
- Know your genre
Once you begin, you need to provide yourself with fuel so you’ll have something to put on the page when you’re able to sit down. Here are a couple of things to try:
- Talk to yourself. Ask yourself, “What can go wrong today?”
- Email yourself a few sentences several times throughout the day
Each method, Plotting and Pantsing, has its advantages and disadvantages. Give whatever appeals to you a try, and be willing to trash it and start with a different method if it doesn’t work for you.
If you want to read a book that was done totally by the seat of my pants, check out Denim & Diamonds.