Pants vs. Plans


Woman and Typewriter with crumpled paperHow do you write? Do you plan every little detail in a well-organized outline, or do you sit at your keyboard and channel the spirit of a fourteenth-century minstrel? Okay, maybe that’s a little “out there,” but you know what I mean. Everybody has their own method, and there are pros and cons to both.

If you’re a planner, you know exactly where all your characters are from, what they are thinking, and where they are going. Your protagonist probably follows the perfect path of the hero’s journey. Your story arc peaks at precisely the right time. Your word count is impeccably perfect. There are no surprises. But that’s the down side, too. Everybody enjoys a surprise sometimes.

If you’re a pantser (a term designated for authors who write by the seat of their pants) your stories are filled with surprises. Your characters speak to you, and when they do, they say the craziest things. They make U-turns right in the middle of a scene, and you have no idea what they’ll do next. You sometimes wonder who is writing your story. The problem with pants-ing is that you may get to the end of your story and discover you have 50,000 more words than your editor wants or needs, and half a dozen too many characters to track.Flying by the seat of the pants drawing

So which method is best? Both, and neither. I think most really successful authors blend methods like a French chef creating the perfect sauce. He sets the precise temperature and uses all the best instruments at his disposal, but in the end, his taste-buds tell him when it’s done.

I like to make a rough outline on a story-board with sticky-notes. This gives me a goal and a sense of pace for the overall tale. I do, however, listen to what my characters say. Sometimes they rebel. I would never say that! How about this?

In the process, I’ve written some of my favorite scenes.

The secret is being open. Plan the bones, but let the characters have character. Give them voices and allow them to speak. Just remind them that you, and your editor, choose what makes the final cut.

Kimberly Black

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