Pantser Thoughts on Plotting

Blog posts on plotting vs. pantsing are as ubiquitous as pumpkin spice this time of year. (No joy-shaming here, but dog treats?)

You’ll forgive me if I indulge my take on this tradition, but if you stick with it, I promise a cool picture at the end as a salve to your soul and a thank you.

I start writing as soon as I have a character in my head. They spring from my head, fully formed like Athena. And like Athena, they drive the story forward. Why is this person alive and talking in my brain? What do they want? What’s wrong with them?

I would write until the beginning of the middle, and then realize I was flying blind. There needed to be a glimmer of where this person was headed, otherwise they had no agency, and I had no plot. There needed to be more ‘what if’ to keep it going.

Thus began my year-long quest to figure out a strategy. Here’s where I am; YMMV.

Write the beginning. Luxuriate in my character and the magic system (I’ve almost always got one lurking), see if they have friends or enemies, throw in some action. Great! I like this person enough to give them a story. Now, let’s take notes.

I write out facts I know about this character and their world. Are there rules? A government? A hierarchy? Transportation? What level of industry exists? Clothing? Terrain? Where does my character fit in or stand out?

Then, I number a page from 1-24 (minimum) and write a sentence about what’s going to happen in each chapter. (This is not my idea, btw. Other people call it varying things, most aim for 27 since you can easily break that into three acts. (Thank you, Agrippina for pointing this out to me. No need to reinvent the wheel.)

Then, I go back and re-write those statements as BUT-THEREFORE statements. (Thank you, Chuck Wendig for this light bulb from Damn Fine Story.)

Using the blog serial as an example:

Jackie wants to have enough money to buy out Ty’s contract BUT she must shatter her jewel to get that kind of pay-off THEREFORE she decides to steal from the Mansion BUT she gets caught mid-heist THEREFORE she must go into hiding BUT she doesn’t make enough money from her theft BUT she finds out something she stole is potentially very valuable THEREFORE she hatches a plan.

That’s more than a chapter, but you see what I’m doing, yes? This is the current system I’m using, and I like it. It drives me from character to story and back again. It forces me to complicate my characters’ lives, thereby driving the action.

What are you using? Where do you struggle as you write and could this help?

Okay, as promised. How amazing is this art?! I have a new life goal. I want to write a book that has Michele Parliament’s work gracing the cover. Absolutely breathtaking.



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