There have only been a few times that I can think of in which I’ve written with any kind of plan or outline. I did it for my last speculative fiction project (and I praised the joys of planning at the time), but usually I am what’s called a “pantser” instead of a “plotter”. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means that I fly by the seat of my pants, without any kind of guide to tell me where I’m going.
Both methods have their ups and downs. Plotting can be awesome because, by the time you sit down to write, you’ve got a road map for the story. You know the characters, what’s going to happen to them, and how they’ll react. The flip side of that is it can mean burning out on the story before you’ve even put words on the page. The pantser method, or writing by discovery (as it’s also called), means that you’re always surprised by where your story goes, which can be kind of fun at times. The down side is that, without that map that plotting gives you, getting lost can mean getting REALLY lost.
I wouldn’t say that I’m lost yet (though I’m sure that will come), but right now I am still trying to get my footing. The little prep work that I do leaves me with quick character sketches and a vague idea of what I want to happen. As a result, it can take me a few tries to get the tone of the story right. Does my main character have a cynical voice or not? Is her narrating style funny or weary? It can take a few tries to hit on what feels right.
This week I’ve been working on just this kind of thing. For some reason I keep defaulting to a false kind of wry, self-deprecating, and slightly sarcastic tone that’s all wrong for what I’m trying to write. I’m not sure whose style I’m subconsciously copying, but it’s something I’m working to get away from.
Writing without a map is kind like Anne Lamott says in BIRD BY BIRD: “Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t – and, in fact, you’re not supposed to – know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.”
Are you a plotter, a pantser, or both? What methods do you use to prepare to draft?
(image adapted from an original by Emm Enn)