We here at Adventures in Writing are always glad to help out a fellow writer, especially if it's something cool. This week week's guest post is from CJ West, author of The End of Marking Time which launches on June 10th. Make sure you follow the links at the bottom to get your copy.
Are You a Plotter or a Pantser?
I don’t usually guest blog on sites aimed at writers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to give advice if I think it is helpful, but until I’m a NYT #1 bestseller, I’m not sure I’ll feel comfortable doling out writing
About two years ago I wrote a series of articles on Hub Pages that outlined my writing process. I did this because new writers kept asking me about my method and I felt I could do a better job describing it in a series of articles than I could retyping the same information into emails over and over again. When I did this, I was positive that my process was refined to the point it wouldn’t change. I was a plotter and that was the way it would always be.
Until last year that was true. My approach to writing a novel had been fairly consistent. I spent three months researching characters and significant story elements and at the same time I created an outline for the novel including the key ingredients for every chapter. Before I started writing, I knew just about everything that would happen in the book. I say “just about everything” because there are always good ideas that crop up along the way and I have always been flexible enough to include them. I have invested quite a bit of time developing tools for outlining and creating character biographies and those tools really work for me.
About two years ago I listened to Lee Child talk about his writing process. He is a pantser, meaning he has a basic idea for the story and then jumps off and writes. His planning is limited to three or four key scenes. He plans the opening, the transition to act II, the transition to act III and the ending. (If you are unfamiliar with three act structure, these transitions are critical turning points in the story.) From there, he sits down and starts writing. The idea that he could do this and come up with an intricately-plotted thriller astounded me. Pantsing was a scary concept and I dismissed it until I was drawn to an idea that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.
I began my research for The End of Marking Time the same way I approached my other novels. I toured a local prison and I held an interview with someone from the corrections department. I had interviewed court officers and police officers months earlier while I was working on another book. I was ready to go into “planning mode” and spend the next two and a half months planning my story, but a strange thing happened. I was flooded with compelling ideas. One of these was an opening scene. I wrote it, promising myself it would be the only thing I wrote before I went back to laying out my plot.
Six weeks later, the first draft was done. I never wrote my outline. Instead I jotted chapter names for the next four chapters I would write, staying that much ahead of where I was in the draft with just a fuzzy idea what would happen. I completed my character biographies on the fly. In less time than it usually takes me to come up with an outline, I had a first draft and that draft was tighter and better than any first draft I’ve written.
Now I’m not so sure if I’m a plotter or a pantser. On my best day as a pantser I wrote 9,500 words. I’ve never come close to that level of productivity with a completed outline. It seems logical that I’d write faster with a completed outline, not slower. When I think about being this productive, pantsing is a very attractive method, scary as it may be. I’m writing a new book, which I plotted using my traditional process even though my beta readers declared my flirtation with pantsing a success. Maybe it was the story and the characters that gripped me and made pantsing possible. Or maybe I’ll evolve into a pantser as I mature as a writer. Only time will tell.
How about you?
The End of Marking Time - 2010