Writers are a funny bunch and the split between plotters and pantsers seems to be an arbitrary one in my mind. In this guest post, Nick Thacker explores why mixing planning with “pantsing” is probably the best route to go for writing fiction. It's certainly the way I write. How about you?
I write using a formula.
*Gasp!* *Shock and awe!*
I know; crazy, right?
Listen, it's not like you think. I've finished a novel, plenty of other fiction content, and am completing a second full-length fiction thriller, and trust me–I haven't sold my soul.
In the writing world, as you're probably aware, there's a polarizing debate between the “pantsers”–those who write by the seat of their pants, plotting and planning as they go along–and the “planners”–those who like to get every detail, plot twist, and problem/solution researched before they begin to work on thier manuscripts.
The Pantsers usually are classified as the ultra-creative, left-brained abstract thinkers, who strive for genius in the creative space by charging into uncharted territory.
The Planners are commonly considered the analytical, detail-oriented people who appreciate well-researched and flawless plots with fully-developed literary devices and very full Evernote accounts of research material.
I'm somewhere in-between, and I'd venture a guess that you are, too.
I write in a creative way, AFTER I've planned out what I'm going to write. I don't try to get everything down into a “research journal,” nor do I actively try to free-write every day.
For me, writing zen falls somewhere between the Pantsers' and Planners' respective camps, and if I had to call it something, I'd say I'm a “Plantser.”
I don't plan everything
As a church music director, I ran a contemporary worship band (think U2 for God) that employed some of the finest musicians I've ever worked with. They were each professional gigging musicians, teachers, or industry pros with years of experience.
I decided to start using “loops” in our worship set–basically a pre-recorded or pre-programmed musical backdrop that would play throughout our songs. Imagine stripping out the guitars, drums, bass, and vocals from a rock band's album, and what you'd be left with would be a backing track that adds color and depth to your sound.
For the band, there were a few things that troubled them. Mainly, we were all worried that using loops would cause us to have less freedom, as we were constricted to a set structure, tempo, and order for each song.
They thought creativity as individuals and as a band would plummet.
Strangely enough, when we playing along with some of these songs' loops, we found that our creativity and overall sound improved DRASTICALLY. We were tighter as a unit, and every member of the ensemble felt as though they had MORE freedom to play licks, leads, and filler material.
The church liked it, and we liked it.
Back to writing
So, how does this apply to writing a novel?
Well, if you plan a GENERAL STRUCTURE for the major sections of your book, and create some simple character sketches, you'll find that the creative juices start flowing MUCH easier when you actually get into the writing process.
You won't have to worry about your end goal; that's already been planned. How you get there, though, in each sentence and paragraph and scene is up to you.
Here's a list of what I like to plan out:
1. Overall theme/idea (duh)
2. Major characters–hero/heroine, villain(s), supporting actors
3. Plot summary (a general structure to guide the major story question along)
4. Scenes and Sequels (to borrow from my boy Dwight Swain!)
5. General notes on the novel's direction
As a self-declared “plantser,” it seems natural for me to resist a set structure, yet want to complain when I get stuck. The method I've mentioned here doesn't solve all the problems, obviously, but it does help me feel clearheaded when I approach the daunting task of penning somewhere near 100,000 words!
I'll expand on the idea of planning/pantsing your novel, and hopefully I'll be able to guest-post again soon! For now, though, leave a comment with your own thoughts on this approach–do you do something similar? Or drastically different?