Making the Arduous Journey from Pantser to Plotter

Moonday Mania

A blog about the craft of writing

I’ve always been a pantser. From the moment Mr. Brown in fifth grade introduced us to outlines, I knew I hated them. I even had to write my ten page research paper two weeks before it was due so I could fake the outline, turn it in, then pretend I’d written the paper from the outline. I desperately didn’t understand why anyone needed an outline.

In college I would get up the morning a paper was due and write it, then go turn it in. Well, only if it was a short one. Longer papers required writing the night before, but none of them got more than my brain turning them over and over. Maybe a few notes scrawled in my spiral notebook, but no outlines. Nada.

So when I really started to write I of course sat down in front of a blank screen and thought about my first scene. Then I typed. This worked well. For the first few scenes. Enthusiasm drove me along through chapter one, then chapter two, then chapter three. By chapter four I was sinking fast and when I hit the second quarter of the plot, I was stumped.

Without a road map I had no idea where my characters were going. Without character sketches, I had no idea why they were even on the journey. I had to change. Even if change meant kicking and screaming and acting like a two year old, I was going to learn how to plot.

Of course what I really did was read books. Lots of books. Books on how to fill out sheets with your characters names and descriptions and deep motivation. Wait, deep motivation. How could I possibly know how my characters were motivated without seeing how they acted? I couldn’t. So I struggled through completing my first book. And then came the editing.

And then more editing. And then the re-editing.

You see without a roadmap I had created some serious issues. I had discovered my characters so far into the plot that I had to go back to the beginning and re-write. A lot. And when I had done that, I found out that some of the plot didn’t work so well, so I had to re-write it. And when I had done that, I still needed to polish the whole shebang. And then I had someone say that they didn’t understand my hero’s motivation, so it still needs more editing. ARRGH!

It was then that I realized that I needed to plot. At least a little bit. And it was then that I discovered the Snowflake method. Randy Ingermanson (author of Writing Fiction for Dummies) has a free Advanced Fiction Writing e-zine that you can sign up for, but what got him started on the e-zine was his plotting method. So many people wanted it he was called to post it online. And now he has a program to help you do it yourself. It’s simple, it’s fast, and better yet, it works for anti-plotters like me.

Next Moonday Mania I’m going to share how I use the Snowflake method and how easy it is for even a committed pantser like me to make the switch to plotter.

Are you a pantser, plantser or plotter? How do you know? Have you tried to make the switch? Leave a comment and tell me your plotting story.

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Filed under Moonday mania, writing craft, writing organization

14 responses to “Making the Arduous Journey from Pantser to Plotter

  1. A friend and I were discussing this very topic over the weekend. Although I list PLOTTER on my voter registration card, I’m actually more of a hybrid because I outline all of my chapters ahead of time, but allow my self the freedom to explore alternate paths while I’m actually writing. I have heard of the Snowflake method before when another friend experimented with it, but I do okay with my own technique so I figure why tip the boat. 🙂

    • Good for you! You’ve found something that works for you, so stick with it. Another method that is easy for pantsers to adopt is Karen S. Wiesner’s First Draft in Thirty Days. Both of them help you to not only plot, but to do it quickly and to end up with a rough draft fast. I think plotters really do have a big advantage over pantsers, because of the quicker edits, but it sounds like you’ve kept the best of both.

  2. Hello, Jessica. It’s me again–your alter ego! When I wrote my first novel I did loads of research made lots of notes in no particular order but just of interesting things I found, got my characters and started writing. I kept on writing and doing the odd bit of research till I finished the first draft. Now I’m researching the sequel but I am not going to start writing till I have a pretty good idea of exactly what the plot is, what new character details my couple might grow into, and where the high points are. In short, I’ll be following a plan. Took me a long time to see the value but I hope to get book number two out the door a whole lot faster. So again, I’m not so unique as I thought.

    • I think there are a lot of us out there! I did have a book on writing romance, but I don’t even remember if it really addressed plotting beyond idea boards and notecards, things I just don’t use. Good for you for making then transition. So are you a plotter now? Or a plantser?

  3. Brinda Berry

    I’m excited about next Monday because I want to see the snowflake method in action!!

  4. I’m a loose plotter. I like to have a good outline but, like you said, I feel like I don’t really know a character until I’ve written a first draft so things are bound to change as I write. I look forward to reading your post about the Snowflake Method, though. I’ve heard of it but never actually known how it works.

    • I don’t know if I ever will be the type of plotter who has it all down before I start writing, but for the first time I am seeing that that could be the way to go. I think this still leaves a lot of flexibility, it just has you flexing a little earlier in the process.

  5. I’m with you, Jessica. I am a reformed pantster. I now find it less time consuming actually to work from an outline. I needed to outline the growth of my character along with the plot.

    • Character growth is an excellent thing to add in. Randy includes goals and epiphany, but it’s pretty loose. I like to use a W plot for each of my main characters to help plot the story, like Karen Docter’s the other white meat w-plot. And that’s a whole ‘nother blog!

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  7. I used to be a pantser, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized my stories need more structure (mainly because I loathe the rewriting process). I found Randy Ingermanson’s snowflake method and used it, but the book I wrote from it was awful. My own fault. I wasn’t deep enough with my character charts. I followed my outline to the T, even if it meant writing something that didn’t line up with something else that had sneaked into the story earlier on. So, I now take what I want from the snowflake method and leave what I don’t want. I do a little of plotting here and there, a little pantsing, and get through it with a better first draft!

    • Sounds like you’ve adapted the Snowflake method in a very positive way. I do think you need to be ready for when your plot changes. Mine shifted the other day and because of that I’ll have to re-align some of the chapters, but using the Excel spreadsheet, I just cut and pasted and deleted a few scenes and now my outline works again. Good for you for making the switch from pantser to something closer to plotter!

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