Generally speaking, when it comes to plotting fiction, novelists comprise two major groups: the plotters, and the pantsers.
“Pantsers” are those authors who write by the seat of their pants, trusting their intuition and creativity to provide characters, scenes, and words.
Which group do you belong to? Does it matter?
It matters, because the more you know about your writing process, the more confident you are. Confidence leads to productivity, and productivity leads to an improvement in your writing skills.
Plotting fiction: plot, or not?
Our recently-concluded fiction writing class was largely made up of pantsers. Many of these natural pantsers believed that they were “failed plotters”, because they thought that the “correct” way to write fiction was to plot extensively.
That’s not so. Many bestselling authors are pantsers.
Tip: whether you’re naturally a pantser or a plotter doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you write novels — the end result is what’s important.
Pantsing fiction takes courage, and trust in your creative self
One author in our class — a natural pantser — pantsed three novels, which sold well. She decided to focus on craft, and learn to plot. It was a disaster. She turned out two wonderful outlines, and couldn’t finish either novel.
That’s common, when you try to shoehorn yourself into a group, because you “should.” Authors force themselves to plot, because pantsing is scary. It takes a lot of courage to trust that the words will be there, and that your creative self knows what it’s doing.
Let’s look at some tips which will help you to pants your way through when you’re plotting fiction.
1. Pantsing is fun, and that’s OK (believe it or not)
You may have noticed that I often conclude my articles with “have fun.” Some writers take issue with this, believing that writing is serious business. Fun, they scoff, clutching their pearls in horror.
Here’s the thing.
If you don’t have fun while you’re writing:
- You’ll stop growing as a writer;
- It’s unlikely that you’ll be as productive as you might be;
- Additionally, it’s unlikely that you’ll write the books you were meant to write, because you’re stifling your creativity.
Fun is serious business. Your creative self is child-like, but not childish. If you’re determined to struggle while you’re writing and have a miserable time, your creative self will leave you to your misery.
So, if you’re thinking that pantsing is incorrect because you’re having a lot of fun, and that you “should” learn to plot, stop that. You’re doing what’s right for you, so keep at it.
2. One word after another, that’s all you need
Seriously, that’s all. Way back when, almost 40 years ago (wince) when I wrote and sold my first novels, that was all I needed. I didn’t know any other way.
Over the years I refined my skipping-across-a-wildflower-meadow fiction writing process to creating an extremely basic template.
- Someone — your main character — wants something.
- Your story starts when something changes in your character’s ordinary world.
- The resurrection.
So, one word after another. Fiction — stories — have a format, and if you’ve read enough fiction, your subconscious mind knows what your story needs. If you’re a new author, and aren’t sure of yourself yet, keep the above basic template in mind.
3. Get inspired: “sufficient unto the day” — write today, not tomorrow
Pantsers allow their snippy inner editor to derail them. Their inner editor (censor) demands to know what will happen next.
Something like: “All right, you’re so clever — what happens now? You’ve managed to write yourself into a corner, haven’t you? You have NO IDEA what happens next, you fool… You can’t write. You’ll never finish this book, and if you do finish, no one will ever want to read it, will they? You…” Yadda, yadda…
My favorite aphorism is “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”, which comes from the Gospel of Matthew.
In pantsing terms, write today — let tomorrow’s writing take care of itself.
Let’s say that you’re stuck. What happens next?
Start writing. Accept whatever comes. More on this in the Easy-Writing Process.
You’ll usually find that you’re writing something or other — a scene which makes no sense. Trust your creative self. If you’re writing the novel’s setup, you may be writing a scene which happens after the midpoint. Keep writing.
Something in what you write will break your creative logjam, and you’ll suddenly know “what happens next”.
Plotting fiction: do as much or as little as you need
I keep book journals. After I’ve finished a novel, it’s amusing to read back through the journal, and realize how often I’ve been stuck. Always, if I had enough faith in my creative self to slap my inner editor out of the way, problems resolved themselves.
In summary, if you’re a pantser: pants away. That’s your writing process, so honor it. Keep writing — and have fun. 🙂
Need plotting help?
Discover Hot Plots.
Why write serial fiction?
Everyone's busy today. A serial is by its nature, faster to write, and publish, than a novel.
It's a quicker read too, and many readers appreciate this. While a reader may hesitate before committing hours to a novel, he can read an episode of your serial in minutes.More info →
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →
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