An Aspiring Writer's Blog Site

Planner vs. Pantser– FIGHT!!

Mortal CombatWriters have some strange jargon. Planner and Pantser appeared on my radar about a year ago. When I first saw them I think my response was along the lines of, “What the . . . ?”

They are easy to remember:

Planner: Plans the novel from start to finish and then writes. “Thou shalt outline or your story is going to publisher hell.”

Pantser: “Flies by the seat of the pants.” In other words, just wing that mutha’.

This is a pretty big thing debated in the writing community. I attended a writing workshop last Saturday and the first thing out of the speaker’s mouth was, “Outline!” The crowd kinda shifted in their seats and mumbled to one another, but what were they to do? They were held captive by this outlining fiend.

So, Dan’s two bits, because I have the e-soap box right now . . .

Our speaker made the analogy of what person in his right mind would build a house without a blueprint? Nobody, that’s who! Great analogy. Problem is, I’m not building a house, I’m writing a story.

A lot about writing a story is about discovery. How many times have we written a scene, going in full well knowing what is supposed to happen and our characters take it in a completely different direction? Sometimes this is good and sometimes its not, but this is what writing is about. You can’t always force it to your will. How do you blueprint that? You can’t.

Video game analogy time! Number three rule of game design—you will make a game design doc at the start of the project, and by the end its best use will be to wipe your butt. You know why? It’s because what sounds good on paper doesn’t always work out on the screen. Game designers need time to figure out what works best for their game and their audience. This is true with story writing too.

Now, let me back track a little before folks think I’m a pantser. I’m not espousing that either. Going back to this presenter, his talk was about story structure: beginning, middle, and end. He was adamant that people understand what each entails. I agree with him, however, this in no way entails that a writer outline—it simply means that a writer needs to understand story structure. Our presenter said that he speaks to published authors all the time that don’t outline—it’s because they understand story structure. This is key!

So, I challenge my writer friends out there—whether you are a planner or a pantser—do you really understand story structure? Heck, do you even know what it means? It could save you some headaches!

WIP Update: I hit a milestone today. I finished the bursts for my protagonist (uncertainty about particular scenes was conquered). Next step–I go through  all the bursts and arrange them so they create a rough draft. After that, I tackle another character’s bursts.  Yay me!

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4 responses

  1. I had to come over again and officially ‘touch’ your page. I meant to link to it in my post, but alas, I didn’t. Thanks for the inspiration, good thoughts breed more good thoughts, and thanks for the compliment; I’ve never been told that I was deep…strange, but not deep.

    Are you still working on Gideon’s Plan?

    December 21, 2012 at 6:37 am

    • Hey, Nate. Thanks for dropping in. Glad you liked the post and were inspired. Yes, the Gideon Plan is coming along nicely. Things will drop off the next couple of weeks because of the holidays (when the kids are home, I can’t write), but I’m hoping to get a short story out the door for publication shortly after the new year. Sorry to hear you are in a bit of a dry spell.

      December 21, 2012 at 11:25 am

  2. As you know, Dan, I’m a planner. What you’re describing here, the “bursts,” sounds like my way of creating an outline. I mingle bursts with notes and keep everything organized by timeline. Gradually, an outline emerges. It looks like you’ve moved closer to finding your natural way of getting the writing done.

    Your method of tackling characters one at a time reminds me of an early novel where I broke the story into six or seven “threads.” I had one for the main plot, one for each subplot, one for the characters’ love lives, one for the mystical scenes (which were all linked), and another for the novel’s philosophy. Each thread had a full set of chapters, with chapters where the thread was not active just mentioning that. Things went well until it came time to merge the threads into one coherent outline. This proved a lot of work (but entirely doable) and, for want of time, remains incomplete. Be on the lookout for inconsistencies and conflicts between your various character-by-character rough drafts.

    I couldn’t agree more about the need to understand story structure. What I’ve struggled with in the past is the transition from beginning to middle and then from middle to ending. Now, I think I worried too much about this and simply switch from one section to another at a chapter break.

    December 24, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    • Hey, Thomas. Thanks for swinging by.

      Yes, sounds like what we do is similar. My bursts do essentially become the outline and transform into a rough draft.

      Thanks for the heads up about the downside of doing one character at a time! I’m not going to progress beyond a rough draft for each character until they are all finished. That will keep me more agile I believe and be able to make changes more easily before things become more final.

      For story structure, my bible has become the Writer’s Journey. God, that book really changed my way of thinking.

      Se ya around!

      December 28, 2012 at 11:47 am

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