Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Overplotting~In Which A Pantser Tries To Change Her Stripes

by Ami Weaver

I am a pantser, all the way. I'll own it. It makes writing a little tricky, to say the least, but I know I'm not alone in this. I have tried, over the years, to make it a little easier on myself by doing some pre-plotting--kind of a *very* loose layout of scenes. I wouldn't even call it an outline, exactly. Just kind of a collection of signposts to make sure I'm on the right path. These are all subject to change in terms of order, though interestingly enough, the scenes I lay out and write ahead of time usually need virtually no editing down the line. I've learned to trust them when they come.


There is a very fine line between a loose collection of scenes and an actual outline. And outlines are where I get into trouble.  I LOVE outlines. They are so pretty and neat and organized. Everything is right there, at your fingertips, all you have to do is flesh it out! (Can you see how much I don't use them? I don't think it's that easy, even for plotters.)

So, I tried, a few years back to plot out a book. No, I didn't try. I *did* plot it from beginning to end. It was fairly loose, but it was all there. All the turning points, the full character arcs, all of it, tied up in a neat little bow at the end.

I was SO EXCITED thinking I'd finally put my pantser days behind me and could be a real plotter. So I opened up a new document and checked my outline, typed CHAPTER ONE--

And stopped.

For days.

I could not for the life of me figure out where I'd gone wrong. I had the whole book, right there, in my outline! Beginning to end (okay, mostly--the middle was a little sketchy but still), the whole shebang. I did manage to cough up a Chapter One, eventually. But it was lackluster and flat and I was no longer in love with the book.

I finally figured out what had happened. For all intents and purposes, I'd written the whole book--in the outline. I knew what was going to happen and I'd taken the magic out of it. So as far as my brain was concerned, we were done with this one. Next.

As it turns out, I need the mists. I need to only have a vague idea of where I'm going, bracketed by those few scenes I mentioned above. I need to trust that I'll figure out where I'm going, that if I keep those scenes in the back of my mind, I'll get there eventually. I *need* that strange alchemy of chaos and magic to make my process work.

I'll never be a plotter. I take great care not to overplot.  I do still write those anchor scenes as they come to me. But otherwise I just ask myself "What comes next?" and hang on for the ride.

How about you? Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in-between?


  1. Yes! I have had that happen to me. I loosely plot and loosely outline--just to have a bit of a roadmap but a lot of things do change along the way which keeps it fun.

  2. Even though I *know* I'm not the only one, it's always nice to hear that there are others who have a similar process. :)

  3. I used to be a pantser and then I became a plotter. I start with a loose outline and fill it in, sometimes starting from the end and working backwards. I do stray, though... Often I realize I need to change things up after writing a few chapters, I then go back and adjust my outline. I really do love that outline :-)

    1. So there's hope! I'm impressed you were able to make the change. I work backward as well. Kind of write from both ends until it all knits together. :)

  4. I've always been a pantser, but it's gotten me into some trouble, and I need to be more efficient in order to meet my deadlines. I'm experimenting with an outline for my next book -- I'll let you know how it goes. :-)

    1. I'd love to hear if you make it work! I'm trying to be more efficient, too. Writing with a hard deadline is much different. It's made me look for ways to cut the fat from my process, I guess you could say. Good luck! :)