The Plotting Pantser

The Plotting Pantser

The Evolution of a Writing Process

I've blogged quite a bit about my writing process on the site, probably most definitively in this post. As I progress through writing my third novel, it's interesting to see how the process changes with each project. I've gone from a strict plotter to a semi-pantser (as in, flying by the seat of one's pants), realizing that the distance between those two doesn't have to be all that far.

With Welcome to Straightville, I was meticulous in the early days. I had a corkboard with index cards, plotting out each chapter, each scene; writing character bios; even sketching how I envisioned the main characters to look. Oddly enough, with all that preparation, the book still took three years to finish a solid first draft. (Note that I said first draft.)

With Blades of Grass, I loosened up considerably. It began as a National Novel Writing Month project in November 2012. I did the requisite 50,000 words in 30 days. Then I scrapped them entirely in January and started over. I worked on that book for the bulk of 2013, finishing the final version of the manuscript by year's end. I was less structured – no corkboard, no index cards, no drawings. Instead, I kept a spiral notebook with a loose outline, plot structure and character bios filling its pages.

Now here we are on book three, and my process has morphed yet again. Maybe it's a matter of experience, but I'm even less structured this time around and, oddly enough, the story is coming more easily than either of the previous two. I still have that spiral notebook, but instead of a hard outline and character bios, it's a collection of plot points – a general arc of the story. I approach a chapter knowing where I need my characters to be next – the point on the horizon they're moving toward. How they get there is happening more organically as I type out the words on the page.

I hesitate to say I let the characters guide themselves through the scene. Some writers talk like that, as though these creations are in charge of their own destinies, the writer simply the vehicle. That's a little too metaphorical for me. Nothing happens to these people unless I make it happen, hopefully doing justice to them and the story I've envisioned in the process. Maybe I'm just getting better at staying out of my own way.

What's most interesting is that this first draft feels more solid in its early stages than the others did. I've shared the first five chapters with a couple beta readers and Agent Steve, all of whom had positive feedback. So I'm feeling pretty good about this one. That isn't to say everything is hunky-dory, but I won't get into my problems here.

I suppose this all boils down to a shift in my outlining process. How stringent to be with that is the source of great debate among writers: strict outliner or a pantser. Here is a great post on that subject. I guess my comfort zone is somewhere in the murky middle.

What about you guys? How has your writing process changed from project to project?

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