Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pantser / Plotter / Pitcher

My first novel was written by the seat-of-the-pants.  I had a wonderful time writing it, but I was never able to create a one-sentence pitch for it.  Maybe I'll be able to remedy that someday, but that day is not today.

In order to prevent that from happening to me again, I decided to try plotting out my next novel.  It's more economical to write a few pages of outline and then try to create the pitch:  if I can't write an enticing pitch, then I can start over without losing much work.

There are a whole raft of reasons why I'm uncomfortable with plotting, but all of them have been overridden by the completion of a pantsed novel that "just doesn't work" (doesn't work yet!).  The characters, actions, and conversations all worked well in pantser mode.  Even the character arcs worked, and I think it was at least in part because the story grew organically.  The point is I doubt I could have come up with the good parts of that first novel in advance.

Maybe I doubt too much.

But now I'm plotting, and at the outline stage, at least, my characters and my story seem to hold together.  It all seems real.  As far as it goes.  And of course I have my pitch.  I also have a problem.

My hero is driven by things in his past, things I've figured out and written down.  The villain has things driving her, too, but I'm a little stuck trying to determine why she thinks and behaves the devious way she does.  Well... actually that's not true -- she's devious because of what she wants, but I'm having trouble figuring out how she came to desire this particular thing.  If I was pantsing it, I'd just ignore the question, and when it came out in the story, something would turn up.  Something unexpected.  Something scary, maybe.  Something "right."

And the story would turn away from any vague plan I might have had for it; it could well become unpitchable.

I know I have some wiggle-room in my outline.  The outline's not overly detailed, and it can certainly change as I write the ms, but every time it changes I'll need to be very careful that the resulting story remains pitchable.  On my first novel, I actually wrote a six-page synopsis before I began, which fell by the wayside almost before I was done with the first chapter....

It's a good thing I enjoy the process, otherwise the thought of writing another entire ms that could go nowhere might prevent me from making the attempt (though if I wasn't willing to take the risk, I probably wouldn't have started writing in the first place).  Reservations aside, I have to give the plotting a fair try.


  1. I'm a pantser myself. I usually jot down a brief outline before I start writing a story. I also do a complete character sketch on all my main characters, but that's it. I like the twists and turns a story takes as you're writing it.

    Re: what I've written so far. I have two completed manuscripts to my credit. The second, what turned out to be my medical romance, is the one an editor is interested in, although I'll probably need to re-write 80% of it. I also have several short stories and five partially completed maniscripts waiting to be worked on. I don't think of all the work I've done as wasted time, as I was learning as I wrote. But I'm now at the point where I'd like to see a little cash return on my time investment!