If you are a writer, you will have heard, read, or even asked the question: are you a Plotter or a Pantser? A Plotter is an author who plans every aspect of the story, perhaps in great detail (How many cheeseburgers did the heroine’s grandparents eat before their first kiss? What color is the hero’s fourth favorite pair of shoes?) before writing anything. A Pantser is an author who “flies by the seat of his pants,” also known as “winging it.” This kind of writer may or may not start with an idea, or even a genre, simply writing what comes as it comes, perhaps on random scraps of junk mail or the odd bit of napkin.
I am neither of these.
My process is a combo-pack, which I suspect is true for most writers. If I plot too much, my brain decides I’ve already finished writing the story. Why do so again? I get terribly distracted. But surfing the web for the woman who perfectly resembles my heroine so I have a proper poster of her to look at while I write (dusky caramel skin, not too orange, with green eyes like emeralds, not grass, and curly red hair, just wavy…) is incredibly fun, and I can righteously tell myself I’m writing. No procrastination here, nope, no sirree Bob’s yer uncle.
On the other hand, if I don’t have a series of story targets, my characters tend to take the baton and run with it, as if being chased by wild things through a brush-filled forest, dark even in daylight, full of menacing–well, you get the idea.
So a happy middle ground is required. My writing partner Deb and I have gathered a series of steps to plan a story, develop its themes and vet its conflicts for viability before setting pen to paper (or finger to key). I still have to envision each scene before I write it, and there’s still a risk of over-thinking the story and boring myself as I write, but mostly this let’s me figure out whether or not the hero really could love a heroine with a fear of cheeseburgers, or if that would strike him as petty, and if the heroine can be attracted to a man with a shoe collection larger than hers. I have to know some details about each character before I get started, but not so many that the grey matter goes on vacation during the actual story writing.
I call this Plottancing (Plotting + Pantsing, with a nod to “dance”), and I’ve been thinking that when I’m rich and famous, (or when I’ve managed to publish a couple-three of those manuscripts under the bed) I would convince Deb to do a conference workshop with me on our process. Seven Anchor Scenes, Four Acts, and the Scaffold Draft would be a few of the high points. We could call the workshop “Plottancing 101.”
Rather, I used to call it Plottancing. Yesterday I had to change it to Ploddanzing. The change is my husband’s fault.
Early some mornings Fred is already hard at work before I wake up. Fred is in charge of Research and Development in my brain. Yesterday Fred woke me around 5:30 (yes, it WAS Sunday, but Fred doesn’t care) to review the outline of the Plottancing 101 workshop. (Fred is more of a Plotter than I am) When I brought Hub his first cup of Elixir of Consciousness (coffee) about an hour later. I mentioned Plotting and Pantsing.
“Plodding and Panzer?” Hub asked.
Hmmmm. Yes, sometimes Plotting IS rather plodding, when every little detail has to be worked out (First she visits her grandmother to hear about the first time she and PawPaw had a cheeseburger together, then she goes to elementary school, then she gets a job at Chuck’s House of Cheese, where she meets the hero, who has just returned from his own high school reunion, where he reacquainted himself with the friend he had in the tenth grade who was always just that much better in English class and now wears Armani exclusively, then he goes to an Armani shop to see what the fuss is all about, then he decides he needs a cheeseburger to give himself time to think about his career choices, which so far have not allowed him to purchase any Armani whatsoever.).
Also, writing on the fly IS sometimes a bit like driving a tank through enemy lines, barreling along with an idea, taking no prisoners, simply getting words on paper because the cute niece of the hero has just lost her first tooth and everyone in the scene can’t wait to hear all about it even though they were about to launch a rescue expedition of the niece’s paternal grandmother’s pet chihuahua who somehow chased a Manx up the neighbor’s maple tree, which has a fungal disease of the roots and could come crashing down into the pond, killing the last of the…wait, what?
Where was I? Oh, yes, Ploddanzing…the process of getting enough of the story planned to keep me on track while I write, but not so much that I succumb to the overwhelming pressure to take a nap in the middle of a sentence. It’s a bit of a balancing act.
Hmmm, perhaps I should change the name of the workshop to Tight-rope Writing 101…