Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Writers, Are You a Planner or a Pantser?

And is one better than the other? After a rich learning experience at the Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana, I have a new way of looking at my writing. Two of the presenters claimed very opposite methods of writing.

Larry Brooks, bestselling psychological thriller author, screenwriter, and instructor (www.storyfix.com) advocated that a writer, if she wants to be published, must plan. Lorna Landvik, a successful novelist, strictly listens to the voices of the characters in her head as they present themselves and writes what they tell her. According to Brooks definition, she is a pantser. He is a planner. Many bestselling authors plan their novels and know the beginning, middle and ending before they begin to write. There are others authors who say they have no idea how their novels will end when they start. So who is right?

As Brooks explained, neither method is right or wrong, as long as your end product is one that readers will read. In order for an agent or publisher to be interested, however, there are criteria you must follow, whichever method you use. And as far as method is concerned, its not black and white. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle along the continuum between the "anal retentive," plotting-every-single-scene-before-you-start planner, and the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, no-forethought-whatsoever pantser.

As I see it, and judging from my experience, the degree of "pantsing" you do will probably determine the number of rewrites you will need to do in order to shape a well-crafted novel that will meet success in the marketplace. On the other hand, the completely anal retentive, plot-driven story will end up stilted and unrealistic without the "heart" that draws the reader in with empathy for the characters.

Which is better? The method that works for you. Whether you plan every detail, just roughly outline before you begin, or run with the ideas as they flow, aim for a plot so gripping and characters so believable and sympathetic that the reader will have no idea which method you used in getting there.




7 comments:

Mark said...

I love that feeling when the Muses speak telling me what to write next, but I can't write a book that way. I just burn out about 30,000 words--and have the drawer full of half-finished manuscripts to prove it.

I have an evolving scene-by-scene outline for my next book, _Encounters in Yellowstone 1877_ that begins in 1805 when the Nez Perce rescue starving members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and ends a hundred years later when Emma Cowan writes her chilling memoir about the Indians taking her captive in the park.

I know that with work I can finish the book. With luck, the Muses will help me and make it great.

-- Mark

<a href="http://mmarkmiller.wordpress.com”>mmarkmiller.wordpress.com</a>

Janet Muirhead Hill said...

I know you can do it, Mark. Let me know when it comes out.

Larry Brook presented three hours of worthy information that will effect the way I approach my writing. Even with more planning, though, I'll keep asking my fictional characters, "What would you do if..."

Jan said...

Hi Janet! I am happy to find your blog here and delighted to find this website. Thank you for introducing it to me and for distributing the invitation to enter the "Second Mile" essay award. By now, you have discovered that your invitation did not lie fallow. I thank you - and Tom Hoe thanks you very, very much ($500 worth!).

Amy said...

MARK:

i have to plan too, even if i deviate. but your next book sounds AWESOME. do you have a publisher??

Lavinia said...

Every writer is different, that's for sure. I'm somewhere in between myself- I plan a chapter or so ahead but if my muse decides something else is gonna happen then it does. For example, I'm working on a co-write with a close friend that involves the mafia. My "character" is a Russian assassin in the Russian mafia. On a scene where we had planned he was going to perform a hit on someone, was the same time a sudden shooting happened at the night club he was at and because my assassin killed a witness too and the cops were called over the shooting, he torched the nightclub. Needless to say, my co-writer was a bit, um, surprised, but she is one who plans everything and I just kind of go with it. It's fun though, it's how I wrote me first solo novel. (http://laviniathompson.wordpress.com/)

Enderson Rafael said...

Very good article, congratulations! I'm a planner, not in the strict way, but I never begin a novel without knowing the end (a good one, wich worth waiting for). It's a north for me, and I seek for writing it as soon as I got there. That's my technique, wich is shared for some of my coleagues. But I know some who - at least they say - don't plan at all. I can't imagine that way - altough my caracters have their own wishes, and sometimes do things differently from what I planned. But the essence of the story in my mind usually remains. Best regards! Enderson Rafael (brazilian YA books author)

Enderson Rafael said...

Very good article, congratulations! I'm a planner, not in the strict way, but I never begin a novel without knowing the end (a good one, wich worth waiting for). It's a north for me, and I seek for writing it as soon as I got there. That's my technique, wich is shared for some of my coleagues. But I know some who - at least they say - don't plan at all. I can't imagine that way - altough my caracters have their own wishes, and sometimes do things differently from what I planned. But the essence of the story in my mind usually remains. Best regards! Enderson Rafael (brazilian YA books author)