Plotting for Pantsers

To plot or to pants-it, that is the question. Or, can you be both a plotter and a pantser? That’s another question.

I think all writers naturally gravitate towards one or the other, but I would argue that a middle-of-the-road approach is best. How to do that? Well, I can’t speak for Plotters, but I can offer some thoughts on how a Pantser can plot without doing all that full-outline-with-notecards jazz. Honestly that stuff fills me with befuddlement. I know it’s a successful tack to take. But it’s just not how my mind works. I start writing a story because I get a flash of something- a scene, a person, or sometimes a voice speaking directly in my head.

Whenever I get stuck, writing the same scene over and over to my dissatisfaction, it’s because I’m not listening hard enough to the voices. Whenever I get lost, it’s because I don’t know where I’m going anymore, and the voices don’t either. Stuck and lost feel similar, but they’re not the same thing at all.

In either case, this is the point where I need to morph into a plotter, or the story will die on the page. I’ve developed some weird moves that work for me. If you’re a pantser they might work for you too. If you’re a plotter, you might try them instead just to see what happens.

plotting gone awry

When Stuck: I get a spiral bound notebook and “call the characters into my office.”

Basically I do a character interview, but instead of the one-on-one getting-to-know you questions one usually asks when writing a character interview, I ask everyone involved in the sticky scene directly: what’s wrong? Usually they tell me right away what I’m doing wrong, and what should happen instead. Sometimes they call me names too, but I don’t mind a little sassing, as long as I put down the pen knowing exactly what to do next.

When Lost: I sit down and ask myself some questions: What is this story about? What needs to happen? How can I create a narrative arc?

I’ll then do some brainstorming and create an extremely brief outline that gets me where I need to go. I write just enough so that I can look back on my notes later and remember what I was thinking about, but not so much that it kills my energy. Usually just a phrase per scene, or a line of dialogue that pops into my head while I’m brainstorming.

For me, taking a step back and talking myself through the plot allows me to run through many different ideas, discarding what doesn’t feel right without spending too much time with any given thought. And having a pow-wow with my characters directly is just another way to tap into the creative subconscious, putting me back in the pantsing groove. It’s not a lot, but it’s just enough of a push to get me where I need to go.