You just have to love how Raine Thomas, author of , worked the Hoover Dam into this one!
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’ve been asked this question any number of times in interviews, and every time, it makes me wince. Perhaps it’s a testament to my school days, but when I hear “pantser,” I envision bullies in hallways reaching for the much-too-high waistbands of unsuspecting nerds. Humiliation simply oozes from the word.
The bottom line is that I’m a Type A. “Pantser” has no room in my vocabulary.
Okay, that’s a little extreme. In truth, when I write my books, I’m a little of both. I always, always, always (yes, it’s worth stating three times) start with an outline. My first outlines were more general, giving me a basic guideline for the beginning, middle and end of the story. The outline for my current WIP, Shift, on the other hand, is a chapter-by-chapter outline that is so thorough it allowed me to write 10,000 words a day when I actually had a full weekend to dedicate to just writing.
That said, I’ve never stuck to an outline. Not once. Even with Shift’s outline being so detailed that the story could practically write itself (ha, ha), I’ve strayed from it. I believe in letting my characters tell their own stories, and I’m not going to be limited by an outline, despite its importance.
Writers who indicate that they write “by the seat of their pants” cause me serious concern. Writing is tough. Like other professions, it requires strict adherence to certain mechanics to ensure a quality final product, even if the end result differs by “engineer.”
Do you think the Hoover Dam was built on a whim? That a group of individuals just decided to wing it and throw up a structure to contain the Colorado River?
Of course not. They had a carefully crafted plan before they started. Sure, they had to vary from that plan as they faced unexpected challenges, but they stuck to the main goal and ultimately made it happen.
Writing an effective story isn’t so very different. It’s important to have a clear plan for a story before getting started. This doesn’t mean having some vague idea of a cool character overcoming a challenge. This means laying out the bones of the story so that when it’s put to paper, it stands strong.
I suggest starting with character sketches of the main protagonist(s). Writers should know their characters inside and out. I create sketches that contain details I never reveal in the actual books, but that compose the cores of my characters. As long as I know those details, the characters come alive on the page.
Then comes the general outline. How will the story begin? How will it end? What will happen in between?
In truth, I think many writers can create full-length novels using only the above devices. If they want to write more quickly, I suggest using the detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline that I mentioned above. It’s amazing how much time is saved when there’s no pause between chapters, trying to figure out what to write next. Thus, taking the initial time to create an outline will save tons of time later when it comes to actually writing.
Am I a plotter or a pantser? I’m a plotter, baby…and you should be, too!