Plotting Versus Pantsing: A Point to the Plotters


I kind of stand in the middle of the road when in the debate over plotting a novel versus pantsing it. Sometimes I plot, sometimes I pants. Both have resulted in some awesome novels. In the Bones, for example, I outlined. Actually, I outlined far more than I usually do, creating character files, secrets, and clues to where the bones are buried and how I’d slip these clues into the story. I also plotted the tension. How does one do that? Well for me it involves outlining what will happen in each chapter. Then I go through and delete any scenes that contain nothing that moves the story forward. I did all of that before sitting down to write, and didn’t look at a single file while writing the rough draft. What’s the point of outlining if you never look at it while writing? Well, when rewriting it helped me find problem areas and fix them.

Anyway, I pantsed The Legend of Jackson Murphy, which I plan to release this summer. The only plotting I did was determining who would die and when. That’s it. Not how or why or anything like that. It turned out better than I imagined. I never planned to publish Jack. It was just me having fun. But he’s definitely a winner.

So, you ask, why give a point to plotting? Take a seat. Here, Clive’s brought some cocktails. Comfy? Good. Let me explain.

Publishing In the Bones was a no-brainer. I knew it was good. I knew it had readers out there waiting to enjoy Carroll’s wretchedness and Ryan’s good old boy charm coupled with tension on every page. But I had to decide what to publish next. Again, a no-brainer: The Legend of Jackson Murphy. Why? Beta readers have been screaming for ages that I should publish Jack, because Jack is a special kind of guy. If I didn’t publish him, there’d be a lynching.

So, as part of my marketing plan, I sat down to determine the sequence of publication for my remaining manuscripts. I have two that are ready to publish after a good edit, but the timing won’t be right for at least a year on these. Maybe even two years. I had to scratch those off the list for now. That left me with Ancient Blood, but I don’t have the sequel to this, which is going to be a series, written yet. And (gasp!) where’s my outline? No worries, I know this story inside and out. So possibly Ancient Blood next. But do I want to slip into the paranormal just yet? Meh…not sure.

If I can get the second novel in the Ancient Blood series written (at least the first draft) the first one could follow Jack. But then what?

False Prophet, I mumble. But False Prophet is so rough it gives me slivers every time I read it. It’s like, a year off being done. But if I work really hard, maybe in six months it’d be ready. Right? Right? Not likely.

How about Lucky? Sure, Lucky’s fantastic…and 20K words too short. Damn. I could have that finished in draft form in a matter of weeks, but then there’s the edits, beta reads, edits, more beta reads, more edits…sigh. Also, Lucky is part of a series. Or at least a trilogy. So, I need to have those outlined before I even think of publishing Lucky. Do you really need the outlines, Renee, you ask. Yes, I do. Because I’ll freak out if I don’t have some idea of where the series is going. That’s how I roll. So I’ve started outlining Nefarious, the second in the series. Still, it won’t be ready for a while because I have to outline at least one more book, or at the very least, have an idea of what it’ll be about. I have no clue as of yet.

Renee, I said, you need to calm down and just work on all that shit you didn’t finish way back when you had hours to spend writing. When was that, I asked myself. Never mind, myself said. I imagined that time bit.

So I figured, I have tons of ideas for novels, surely I can write a new backlog while I publish the current one. No outlines, but that’s not a big deal. I pants shit all the time. I mean, come on. Everyone remembers their ideas. No so. It’s just not so.

After trying to recall these brilliant ideas, I got really depressed, thinking about all of these fantastic characters and plots I’d written down, and then realizing I had nothing more than slips of paper containing a protagonist, a villain or just a setting for some of the notes. Others were “this happens and then this happens, because of some reason yet to be determined.” I suck at note-making.

I despaired that I’d lose these ideas forever. One story, titled Manson (it’ll change) lingered in the back of my brain, whispering that I should write it soon. It was awesome too. It was a complex, twisted plot with juicy villains and dark, mysterious heroes. It was paranormal too, with shapeshifters, fairies and vampires, AND the Catholic Church. But that’s all I could remember and I KNEW I’d written an outline for it, but do you think I could find it? Pfft. No. Because I also suck at organization.

But then….THEN…I found this little flash drive in my bucket-o-crap that sits on the table in my office/garage. The bucket is for crap I should throw out, but never do. Thank God I also suck at housewifery. On the flash drive I found not one, not three, not five, but EIGHT outlines. Eight!!!! Some of these stories I completely forgot about. And in addition to these outlines, were a handful of started manuscripts with various ideas jotted down.

“Oh. My. Fucking. Shit.” I said to no one in particular because it’s just me who sits in my office/garage creating brilliance. As I read each outline, the original inspiration for each flooded my head. I remembered everything. You can’t even imagine how excited I am about this. I can’t believe I forgot the ideas, but now they’re fresh and as I said to Carlos, it’s like I’m on fire and I can’t decide which part of me to put out first. But I’m okay with having such a problem. Better to have too many ideas than not enough, right?

The point goes to plotting because if I hadn’t paused to jot down outlines for these ideas, however brief, I know I’d never have written a few of these novels because although I had the vague ideas for these stories, the initial inspiration was lost. And folks, when I write, I need that fire under my ass.

But let’s not forget the pantsing. It gets a half point because on this flash drive I also found a few started novels. Ideas I couldn’t wait to begin writing. I’ll continue pantsing those when I need to have some fun.

Anyone else found an unexpected Christmas hiding in some dusty corner? Pantsers out there, how do you keep track of your ideas? I must know, because my brain is full of holes. If I don’t make notes, the idea is lost.


One thought on “Plotting Versus Pantsing: A Point to the Plotters

  1. I can’t work without an outline. Once I have a good idea what (at least) the first part of the story is about and where it’s headed, I write wherever my keyboard takes me, often ignoring the outline. But I need that outline first, otherwise it’s just a mess, it’s target practice, nothing real.

    Flash drive gems are awesome. 🙂

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