Tag Archives: Plotting

Guest Post–Writer: Are You A Plotter or Pantser? Take This Quiz Now! by Writer’s Relief

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This article has been reprinted with the permission of Writer’s Relief, a highly recommended author’s submission service. We assist writers with preparing their submissions and researching the best markets. We have a service for every budget, as well as a free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit our site today to learn more.

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There is no right or wrong way to write a novel. But there are two main writing strategies authors often use when writing a book—and they both have funny names. Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser”? Not sure? Writer’s Relief offers you the definition of each, along with a quick quiz you can take now to help you decide which writing style works best for you.

Are You A Plotter?

Plotters outline their stories before writing them. (More on how to outline here.) They know all the details—characters, plot, subplots, climax, and resolution—before they write a single word. This prewriting strategy means more work up front, but less chance of developing writer’s block during the process, because plotters know exactly where they’re going. They have a handy map to lead them to their destination and keep them on course. Plotters tend to write more efficiently and finish novels more quickly than pantsers.

But before you decide that this is the way to go, hold on: There are some cons to being a plotter. For instance, if a plotter wants to change the outline, this generally involves changes to other chapters. Reconfiguring an outline is often more daunting than creating one from scratch, as each chapter may be affected by a change that happens in one. Also, because less creativity is involved in the writing process, it can start to feel more like a chore and become mundane. Let’s face it, planning every detail of anything—whether it’s a vacation or a novel—doesn’t leave much room for misadventure or happy accidents.

John Grisham and J.K. Rowling are plotters. Grisham feels that the more time he spends on an outline, the easier the book is to write. Rowling confesses that she uses a basic plot outline but fills in along the way, which sounds a lot like a “plantser,” the hybrid love child of a plotter and a pantser. Check out one of Rowling’s detailed spreadsheets here. It should come as no surprise that it is handwritten, since it’s rumored that she has used napkins, an airplane sick bag, and once even a dress to write the Harry Potter series.

Other plotters include R.L. Stine, Dan Brown, and the fantasy author Brandon Sanderson.

Are You A Pantser?

Pantsers are considered the free-spirited artists of the writing world because they tend to fly by the seat of their pants when crafting a story (hence the moniker “pants-er”). They let their characters establish themselves and allow the plot to unfold on its own. It’s less work up front, but more during the actual writing process. And though pantsers may have a vague idea about direction, they’re not interested in following a map. As a result, any twists and turns in the story feel more natural because they were not planned.

Sounds way more creative, fun, and adventurous, right? Who wouldn’t want to be a pantser? Well, creative freedom doesn’t come without a cost: Pantsers are more likely to fall victim to writer’s block. (Check out these 3-word prompts to break through writer’s block.) When they get stuck, some pantsers simply move on to another project, leaving behind an unfinished story or novel. They tend to have a computer full of works in progress. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t—or can’t become—successful writers.

Stephen King is a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of writer. That’s right, he’s a pantser! In his book On Writing, he argues that he can tell which books have been outlined because they feel somewhat stale.

Margaret Atwood is also a pantser and compares creating a story using the structure of an outline to paint-by-numbers.

And this may be a little surprising, but George R.R. Martin is another pantser.

A Plotter, A Pantser, Or Somewhere In Between? Take This Quiz And Find Out!

True or False:

  1. When planning a trip, I always make sure to have a tour guide.
  2. On the shelves of my personal library, the books are methodically organized.
  3. I always make a grocery list before shopping.
  4. I panic when I get lost.
  5. When going out to eat at a specific restaurant, I research the menu online beforehand.
  6. My sock drawer is categorized by color.
  7. I have my clothes for work laid out and ready to go the night before.
  8. I MapQuest everything including my trips out to the backyard shed.
  9. The sheets in my linen closet (even the fitted ones) look like they have been meticulously folded by Martha Stewart.
  10. The inside of my car is free of clothing, books, sports gear, fast-food wrappers, crushed soda cans, and empty Starbucks coffee cups.

If you answered TRUE to 6 or more questions, you are a born plotter.

If you answered TRUE to 4 or fewer, it looks like you may be a pantser.

Have exactly 5 TRUES? Guess what? You are a little of both—also known as a plantser. This method is widely used by many writers who understand the advantages of plotting out a novel while also giving the characters free will.

Guest Post: Plot Backward to Move Forward with Your Novel by Janice Hardy

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Guest Post: Plot Backward to Move Forward with Your Novel by Janice Hardy

Thank you to Janice Hardy and to Writers in the Storm for this excellent article on plotting the novel.

Unless you’re playing with a non-chronological story structure, plot unfolds as time marches on in a novel. It starts when the problem is discovered (more or less), and ends when the problem is resolved. But just because the story is in chronological order, doesn’t mean we need to plot it that way.

I’m currently working on the outline for a novel a bit outside my normal genre. It’s still science fiction, but it’s a detective novel at heart, with all the twist and turns and plot requirements that entails. Information needs to be revealed in the right way, otherwise my plot might feel too rushed or too slow, and some of the logic leaps my detective has might not make sense. This holds true of most stories, regardless of their genres.

Luckily, there are pinch points I know I’m going to have, such as finding the body, uncovering the killer, revealing key secrets and clues. These clear moments are “destination points” for me to plot toward.

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Pantsers just write their way there and see what happens, but I’m a plotter, and I need to have a solid outline in place before I begin a novel. When I can’t find my way forward, I skip to the end and go backward. Because of those destination points, I know exactly where I need to be.

With a genre as structured as a mystery, this is even easier. For example, I know my detective will discover the killer’s identity at a certain point. So I start there–what specifically reveals this? What clue leads him to this discovery? How does he find that clue? What is he doing when he discovers this clue? At each point, I figure out what had to have happened to get him there.

Let’s look a little closer.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Review of Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell

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Review of Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell

Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell is not a comprehensive guide for fiction writers; neither is it a book for beginners. For someone who has at least written a complete first draft, it would be helpful in focusing your rewrite. In your subsequent stories, Bell’s technique will save you much grief, because you’ll know what to do in the dreaded middle of the tale.

Book open to middle

Bell says there is a pivotal moment of truth at the midpoint of the story that pulls together the entire novel. Here the main character does one of two things:

  • In a character-driven story, the MC looks at himself and makes a decision about the person he’s becoming. Does he like himself? Does he have to change the way he operates? How is the struggle he’s involved in affecting him?
  • In plot-driven fiction, the MC evaluates her objective and realizes that going forward is going to cost her dearly; she will surely die, if not physically, then emotionally or professionally. And she makes the decision to go forward. (If not, end of story!)

I was relieved to discover my work-in-perpetual-progress does have this defining moment close to the midpoint, without me knowing Bell’s theory or planning for it. (Phew!) Bell’s research shows that it’s virtually universal in successful books and movies.

Interestingly, Bell discusses this most important information in Chapter 5 of 9. A coincidence?

After Chapter 9, he also includes five helpful writing tips.

Write Your Novel From the Middle is a quick read. I have it on my Kindle, but if you prefer hard copy, it won’t take up much space on your writing books shelf, where it would be a valuable addition. I rate it four stars out of five: what it does, it does well, but it won’t solve all your writing problems, nor does Bell claim it will.