Sunday, May 6, 2012

Plotter, Pantster or Both?

There's been lots of chatter on the Desert Breeze Authors' site this weekend about whether our members are 'Plotters' - those that carefully plan out there plots in detailed outlines; or 'Pantsters' - those that start with an idea and run with it - therefore, writing by the seat of their pants, ergo 'Pantsters'. There is also a group that uses a combination of both techniques, called 'Plotsters'.

Now, on occasion I've used them all. In fact, I bet we all have. The one year I participated in NaNo (NaNo is the nickname for National Novel Month. Each November, people all around the world accept the challenge of writing a a fifty-thousand word novel in the thirty days of November.) I did use a detailed outline. It proved to be an absolute life-saver, because I was away the first five days of November; my brother died unexpectedly, so I was busy filing papers for custody of my nephew and my computer refused to boot. But even with all that, I finished.

In all honesty, I am using a skeleton outline for a new series I'm ruminating on. However, it truly is a bare-bones thing. I've made a beginning premise, and then listed out the main character's names and where they'll end up - but that’s all.

The thing is I'm not at all sure that my method actually qualifies as the traditional 'Pantster' technique - or even the blended 'Plotster' way. My favorite procedure is one I refer to as 'Anarchy'. You see, I let my characters develop on their own.

I block out the two or three main characters - age, height, weight, hair and eye color, etc.; and then I let them stew. Along the way, secondary characters will emerged and defined themselves, as well. It is true that often, the name I choose for the characters helps shape their personalities - sometimes it might even 'point' them in a certain plot direction. After giving them some time to mature, I kind of interview them.

There are people who recommend for us to actually interview each of our character. You can find several lists of suggested interview questions on the internet. However, I do a bullet list. I just think about them and list what comes to mind. If a questions pops into my head, I will usually find I know how that character will answer.

Now, I'm not talking about basic questions like you'd find on a survey. I'm talking about personal and sometimes silly questions. For example: What was their favorite subject in grammar school? What food won't they eat? What are their secret fears and/or desires? How do they drink their coffee? How much sleep do they need?

As foolish as it may sound, if you think about these things, the answers will just be there for you. All you need to do is to note them down for future reference. As this information accumulates the character's personality forms. It will tell you how they speak, dress and interact with others. It will reveal their personal ideologies, ethics and values.

But wait . . . that's not the anarchy part.

Here is comes . . .

Then I ask them what they want to do. Remember that old Microsoft Windows ad - 'Where do you want to go today?' That's what I ask my characters. Then I let do it. That's how I do the first draft. I just let them run amuck. That's the anarchy!

The really funny and interesting thing is it's led to some very unexpected and fabulous plot twists. Even when things need revising to smooth them out, it makes for a better plot. And that can only make for a better book.


  1. Very nice! I love that you say the name helps shape the character; I've sometimes tried changing a character's name - for different reasons - but it doesn't work. Their entire personalities change too, LOL.

  2. I tend to plot everything out. That isn't to say that mid story my characters have a different idea how things are going to go. Great post.

  3. I'm both. Because sometimes you can plot within an inch of your life and your characters will still do what they want.