I recently had the sincere pleasure of reading this novel by Iva-Marie Palmer. I enjoyed it so much! I’ll post a review later but right now, I want to share a guest post with the author! Enjoy!
Question: Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I have this thing about labeling myself. Maybe it’s because I’m a mercurial Gemini (though, I’m a June 21 baby and my Cancer cusp comes through on the regular) but if you ask me questions like, Introvert or extrovert? Doer or dreamer? Nature or nurture?, the only consistent answer I can give is, “A little of both?”
Some would call it indecision, and they wouldn’t be wrong, except that I might assert, “No, more like decisively both.”
Anyway, that’s why I love and hate answering the writing question, “Plotter or pantser?” A plotter being someone who figures out their story before they begin, and a pantser being someone who flies by the seat of theirs until a book is done.
I’m, as you may have guessed, a bit of both.
When struck with a new idea, I often (well, if I think it’s a good idea) get excited about a character and a setting and an opening scene and just start writing. Very pantser of me. And, because of this tendency, I have quite a few documents on my computer that consist of excellent starts that will never be much more than that. Sometimes, it’s because I realize an idea doesn’t have many places to go beyond the riveting scene I’d been toting around in my head, and sometimes it’s because I’m distracted by a work-in-progress I’m further along on, or by a brand-new shiny idea that seems better.
I don’t think of these starts as wastes, and having them around is nice for times when I feel fresh out of ideas.
But sometimes, I get a little further, writing two or three or four chapters of something new – a few times, I’ve written maybe a quarter of a book.
And that’s when I have to turn plotter. Because my pantser self will write me into a corner. Often, it’s from one of two causes: Either I fill the beginning of a manuscript with tons of problems, conflicts, and hurdles for my character, OR, I simply write a charming and voice-y character who meanders through the scenes, with no events or conflicts sizeable enough to make for a good story.
That’s when I have to plot. Plotting is hard for me. Especially when I feel like I’ve put a lot of energy into my manuscript’s start and have written myself into a corner, or worse. (Actually this is kind of like when I run sometimes and charge out the door, full of speed, and get so far from my house that running all the way back feels daunting.)
But, basically, I will plot when I absolutely have to. I usually will read through what I have, summarize it, and then decide where I want the story to end. Then, I have to fill in the wretched middle. The middle is always the most difficult place for me, especially if I’ve started the book with one too many threads that I have to carry through.
Once I have a loose synopsis, I try to break everything out chapter by chapter. I also ask myself the question, Does this chapter or scene have a purpose that works for the end goal? What is the chapter doing? Is this chapter surprising, revealing, and useful?
Honestly, plotting is when I feel the most professional as a writer, even if I simultaneously want to curl in a ball and never think ahead about anything ever again. It’s also the part of the writing process where I’ll sometimes have an editor or trusted reader look over my plan to point out all the holes in it. I have to really like this person or be legally bound to them in some way from which it’s hard to extricate myself, because I am asking them to be aggressively annoying about all my hard work. Que sera, though.
I wish here that I could offer some great strategies or tips for readers plotting their own novels but I don’t adhere to any one particular method. (See the introduction and my flip-floppiness to understand why that is.) However, one thing that’s worked for me – and was suggested by one of my editors at Harper Collins – is to read a book similar in story/genre/type to my planned manuscript and list the events and how they fit together.
I also find it helpful – once I’ve cobbled together an outline of sorts – to not let myself get stuck. By this I mean, if I’m having trouble with a chapter or scene, the beauty of an outline is I can go on to the next chapter or scene and at least write a skeletal version of it, which gives me something to flesh out later.
And, finally, what’s helped me most of all is finishing my first draft. No matter if you’re a plotter or a pantser, the single most important thing you can get out of any writing endeavor is a first draft. It will be ugly, most likely, and need a lot of work, but I can definitively answer the question, “Ugly draft or no draft?” with “Ugly draft” every time.
Please pick up or borrow Iva-Marie’s book today!