Ask fiction writers if they’re plotters or pantsers and most will know what you mean. Plotters, as their name implies, carefully construct the plot of their books, at least chapter by chapter and, most frequently, scene by scene. They may do this on the computer or the old-fashioned way, on index cards that can be moved around on a bulletin board. The classic plotter knows precisely where the high points of the book occur, where the climax is, what the denouement will consist of, where the sex scenes occur (if its a romance). They may describe every detail of a scene before writing it. The actual writing just inserts the dialogue and emotion.
Pantsers are another matter. These writers operate by instinct, inspiration and write from the seat-of-their-pants. I had one pantser writer tell me that she literally can’t determine anything about her story before she starts, not even the plot outline. Now, that’s inspiration. I recently wrote a post (see below) called Talking to Your Characters and explained how you may think you know what’s going to happen in a story, but once your characters start talking to you, things happen on their own. The “pure pantser” is the extreme of this idea. It scares the wits out of a plotter, but pantsing is very successful for many writers.
There is no right or wrong way. Choosing how to plot a book is individual to each author. I’m a mixture of plotter and pantser. I usually start with some germ of an idea and it suggests a character. I got an e-mail from a friend in London raving about the ballet and i thought wouldn’t it be fun to write a book with a male ballet dancer as the hero. (I’m writing that book now). Then i need a plot for this hero. I walk around in a fog and don’t get a lot of sleep for a few days while some story builds itself around the hero. I write (on cards) who the main characters are and what the significant plot points will be. Just high points. Two heroes meet, have a kiss, one runs, third man in the menage enters, meets dancer, other hero gets angry, comes to rescue, three hook up, etc. You get the gist. For me, knowing that i have enough plot for the general length i want the book to be is important. That’s why i map out some plot points in advance. I need to know what the conflict will be so i can introduce the seeds of that conflict right at the beginning. Who is the villain, if any? How will i get that person on stage? What research do i have to do to make my story believable? This all sounds very organized but it’s actually not. Most of it happens in my head, with only a bit ever written down.
Then the pure pantsing comes in. I have no idea at the beginning, how i’ll get from one plot point to another until i start writing. That’s where the characters talk to me and everything just happens, seat-of-the-pantswise. As i come upon each scene i generally have to pause for awhile and figure out the best place to start to get to the action most quickly. Then i plunge. Stuff happens and i learn things i’ve always wanted to know.
I guess i’m a “plotser”. How about you?