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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Neither a Plotter Nor a Panster Be

Plotter: Someone who works out the details of a plot in minute detail before they begin writing.

Panster: Someone who takes a vague idea and begins writing, making things up as they go along.

Liana Brooks: Someone who kinda does a little of both it's not best to speculate what goes on her brain, really.

A few weeks ago Misa Buckley emailed me with an idea for an SFR (science fiction romance) anthology she wanted to put together. It sounded like a fun idea and I knew that after finishing this lastest draft of JANE DOE I was going to need some time away from serious writing so I could have fun and work the kinks out of my brain. And where better than SFR to get kinky?

I never start a book by opening a blank document and staring. I never have. That method works for some people but I don't have the will power to stare until ideas appear, I'll get distracted by something shiny - like a stumble button - and meander away.

No, I start by giving my brain a kick and telling it I needed an idea for a stand-alone SFR short story that fit the anthology requirements. And then I left it alone. A week went past before a character appeared. She had personality and a look, but little else. Over the next week ideas filtered in, other character appeared, and soon I had a story.

Which I guess makes me a plotter... only I miss that major requirement of writing detailed outlines. I do write outlines. They are very pretty. They also have as much in common with the story that I write as a duck has in common with a platypus. Yes, they both have beaks and swim but beyond that... my books all look like platypuses.

For me it's important to have all the background details, character traits, and world-building worked out ahead of time. Which led to this lovely comment on Twitter...

Fair enough, I did send her two pages of background data on my worlds. Excessive for a 10k short story? Not for me!

And that, I think, is where the whole Plotter vs Panster argument falls apart. I've seen people recommend everything from The Snowflake Method to note cards to throwing darts at random plotlines on a dart board and stringing them together. If it works for you, great! But before you run around in a panic know what works for you.

Try several methods if you need to (NaNoWriMo is a great time to experiment). Know what you need when you write, and don't let anyone pressure you into writing their way.


  1. Hehee, my plots either come from weird-ass dreams I've had after a night out, or an idea that's grown from something somebody said or did. Its always something tiny and the rest of the plot grows around it.

    I've never been able to plan everything out before hand though; it just doesn't seem to work.

    I was going to try it for this year's NaNoWriMo though; see how well my brain coped with it.

    Heh, I'll let you know how it goes!

  2. I used to be panster and now I'm both! I really have to have an idea or I don't even want to sit down in front of the computer because I know it will be a waste of time.

    Usually, if I DO sit down with an idea and words don't start pouring out immediately (or within 30 minutes, who am I kidding, right?) I'll get up and leave all frustrated.

  3. Nice post :) I really need to write the outlining post I've been planning for the last two months o.0 :P :D

    Apparently, I can do a scene-by-scene outline for anything about 20k or under, but beyond that, my brain rebels. I know the key moments in the story, and I plan scenes about 3-4 scenes in advance, but if I try to do more than that for a novel it ends up being truly terrible.

    So yeah, I agree: know what works best for you, and try to avoid extremes! :D

  4. Well keeping in the vein of your cooking idea and combining it with this I guess I am a "Wokstir". I just throw it all in a pan stir like crazy and hope nothing gets burnt and that it all works when I pour it out. At my age I have a problem keeping all the details in my head. I mean I head to kitchen and end up in the laundry room or on the front porch and two or three other destinations before I get to the fridge and back to my writing..