Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 5 June 2016

PLOTTER/PANTSER DEBATE – Part One Hundred and … by Gill Stewart



When it comes to writing, I’ve always considered myself a Pantser – one of those people who write by instinct, into the mist. I start with a character or a couple of characters, a setting … and off I go. If during, or at the end of, the writing process I feel there is a problem with some section I’ll mull it over, perhaps let a critique partner have a look, and try to change it – again by instinct.


Part of the story plot spreadsheet - will it work?

Now, thanks to my editor and friend Claire Watts, I’ve decided to try a new approach. I don’t know if it will work, or if I’ll repeat it after this initial experiment, but I’m going to try plotting. It's sort of backwards-plotting, as I have already written the book, but it's a start. I'm breaking down my current wip into detailed scenes, analysing each one, and trying to see if that way, objectively, I can pin-point what is and isn’t working.

It’s really amazing when you start to see where the holes are in your story. And then of course you think – why couldn’t I see that before? Obviously a genius or a natural-born storyteller would do this automatically. Someone like me needs more of a hand – or maybe just a kick up the backside. I’ve been so concerned about making my writing realistic that I’ve sometimes forgotten that I am a storyteller and that The Story Comes First. Commercial fiction, which is what I write, must work first and foremost on the level of the story. And I realise that sometimes I’d been forgetting that …

So far I’ve broken the work down into 98 scenes, although some of those are linked so it’s probably more like 40 - 50 scenes. Now I’m analysing each one. When you start writing notes to yourself like ‘what is the point of this scene?’ or ‘check this actually works?’ you feel you have finally got to the nub of what you need to do. The next question is – can I do it?

My main concern is that this process will change my writing from being (I think) deeply felt but sometimes drifting, to feeling manufactured. I definitely don’t want manufactured! What I’m aiming for is deeply felt but properly focussed. Has anyone else tried this approach? Watch this space for how I get on!

10 comments:

  1. I haven't but as a crime writer, I always think I should write back from the end! However, I've never done anything but write into the mist, so I don't think I'll start now.

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    1. I think I'm a bit of a sucker for spreadsheets and when I started making one with all the coloured bits I realised I was having fun! Still not sure it helps though.

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  2. As one who writes into the mist I often think I include too much everyday trivia and the story is taking forever to unfold. I do try to edit at least twice and remove passages which seem unnecessary second time around but I would not like to analyse in too much detail or I might never finish. Whatever you do please don't lose the natural warmth of your characters and believable story lines. I like them as they are.

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    1. Thank you lovely Gwen! I'll do my best to tighten up the plots but not lose the warmth (neither of which you ever have problems with).

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  3. I'm so impressed by everyone writing into the mist! I need a route map to keep me on track. Will be keen to hear how you get on, Gill.

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    1. It's interesting and surprising how many people do actually plan (well, it's surprising to me!).

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  4. Definitely a panster here, both novels and short stories. With a short story I usually start with a random sentence and then ....whoosh..... I'm off. Whatever floats the writer's boat, though, has to be right.

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    1. I like the idea of starting with a random sentence! I'd quite like to try that.

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  5. Great post, Gill, and so relevant! I've always been a total pantser, starting with characters, but I do keep thinking my plotting needs the kind of approach you've outlined. Think my WIP could do with this, thank you.

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    1. Glad it is useful. I've been using a book called 'The Story Grid' which is a bit too technical for me but does have some useful ideas.

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