While at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference this last April, a friendly woman sat beside me at lunchtime and launched into conversation with “pantser or plotter?”
“Arrr…What?” My creative and deeply thought-out reply must have clued her into the fact that I have never heard those terms before.
“Do you plot your stories or write by the seat of your pants?”
My thoughts flowed. I write unstopping for hours when the inspiration pours through me like lava in an ice cream factory. “Pantser.”
When I related the story to my husband, he said “plotter” before I even finished. I glared at him as he continued. “You make flow charts and mind maps of everything. You even fill out whole character sheets for minor characters.”
Okay, he may have a point.
The truth is, the question is misleading. Everyone should write as fast and furiously as possible when a revelation hits. White-hot moments of pure brilliance and surety are so rare that you shouldn’t screw with it. You will have plenty of time later to hone off the rough edges and clean up the grammar.
However, all writers should do some plotting in the story’s development. It is a sure-fire way to understand and make sure all the elements drive the action forward and all extraneous stuff that mucks up the story is deleted.
But pants-writing is preferable. When my muse Laurel-Ann whispers in my brain, I feel something close to rising sexual energy brewing somewhere between my imagination and my fingers. BUT when she slinks away to sleep off her Oreo overindulgence in the cold light of reality (most of the time), then plotting takes over. Every scene must be critical to the hero’s path.
For instance, your cross-dressing noir detective races through the streets to stop the sixth armed robbery in a string of incidences. He gets into an accident instead with a drunk driver. This scene should do more than add pages of emergency medical procedures and angry dialogue. The event causes him to miss the robbery, true, but it should also add some critical element that connects later. For instance, consider these options.
A. It may injure him in some way that makes later action harder/impossible or gives the villain an advantage.
B. It ruins his car so he must borrow or rent another. Why is this important? The villain misses the hero’s presence later because he doesn’t recognize the car.
C. The hero loses some critical evidence in the ruined car when it is towed away. This heavily affects his ability to solve the case.
Inspiration allows us to get the beauty of the tale down. Plotting adds cohesiveness and clarity to the story.
So whatever answer you have to the plotter-versus-pantser question, realize at some point that you need both: organization and inspiration. What factor leads your writing is completely up to you.