Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pantsing or Planning?

My first novel, an evil of Voldemort proportions and also shall not be named--was completed by the seat of my pants. I had read extensively of Stephen King's philosophy on writing and thought emulation would be the best way to start.

Turns out, I was only half right.

My second and third completed novels were plotted completely, using a bunch of systems that I modified and made my own. I was impressed at the degree in which I took my second novel's different plot lines and attempted to layer them one after another, weaving them the way one braids a little girl's hair. I liked the act of plotting in this regard: it kept me from wondering what I'm talking about and gave me the bird's eye view of my story's overall theme and content. Did they turn out better? I think so.

This summer, during my little hiatus, I decided to write a few books without plotting anything. I had one particular story idea (Savior, available now) that I muddled with for years before I finally decided to just down and write the damned thing. I stressed about not knowing where it was going to go, how it would end. I freaked out on a daily basis (my boyfriend will attest) whenever I hit another speedbump in the story. How could I get over this? Why am I doing this without knowing where I'm going? Who's crazy idea was this?

Turns out, I loved the ending. It had a certain sensitivity and conclusion that made even me feel it was well-deserved. I hope you guys like it, too.

My next story, just completed a few weeks ago, was also unplotted. Again, freak outs ensued and issues came up. I cycled through the story on a daily basis, looking for hints that my subconscious set into the story, clues that my inner storyteller was on the ball the whole time. Turns out, I was right. These stories are shorter than my normal novels (little more than 200 pages versus my typical 300 pagers), so it makes me wonder if I need the extra planning to thoroughly process ideas.

I'm pretty sure Dean Wesley Smith would disagree, but it was under his blog posts about writing myths that prompted me to just sit down and write. It made me nervous, but I did it.

Which is better? I guess I really liked the pantsing, but I need the safety net to ensure I don't freak out too much. Turns out, I need a particular thematic element to write a novel. If I don't have it, the story just wanders about like a blind man without his seeing-eye dog.

For now, I want to attempt to meld the two into an organized chaos that helps me be spontaneous with a loose road map.

How does everyone else handle this? Have any of you found a system that puts the two together well?


  1. It's interesting that you tried both. The first time I finished a novel was when I outlined, so I prefer planning, but the degree to which I plan varies. I take holly lisle's writing courses, and she is of the 'write a line for each scene, but don't be afraid to change it if a better idea comes'. I've only tried it for a short story so far, and it did feel good knowing what to write. I've gotten some nice compliments from the places its been submitted to so far.

    So I'm a planner, but I'm still playing about with how much I plan. I'm a great fan of Dean, and he has a lot of good points, but I don't believe pantsing is always more fun than planning. I think it depends on the person, and the story.

    Anyway, interesting blog you have here. Glad to have stumbled across you.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I've looked at Holly's courses, but I'm a bit stingy when it comes to spending money on learning how to do anything, so I haven't invested. I love the idea of having a small commitment to each scene/chapter/whatever and not being afraid to stray. I've learned that straying is more fun.

    I recommend a little "pantsing" from time to time, especially if you've ever doubted your ability to write. I'm 99% sure we all have at one point or another. Set the story aside, come back, and re-read. You'll be amazed at the themes, characters, and excellent ideas you had all along. Just gotta have faith.