This week, I’ve worked on a draft outline of the overall plot of my WIP, leaving a bit of room for tweaking. I had to get this sorted as my initial idea needed a radical rethink to make the storyline more ambitious. The task of mapping out the plot made me consider whether I’m a plotter or a pantser (as in, fly by the seat of your pants when writing).
Plotter or pantser is a question often asked of writers at book events. I’ve sat in the audience many a time at book festivals and listened to pretentious writers tell readers that they’ve absolutely no idea what’s going to happen in their novel until they write it.
“I let my characters take me on a journey of discovery. I cut them loose and they tell me where the book needs to go, blah, blah,blah…”
Yeah right! At this point, my nostrils flare as I sniff the air for the smell of bullshit.
Of course, nothing is carved in stone when you’re in the mind of a character; you never know exactly what’s going to happen next and if you did, I think it would be a very dull process. But do you need to know the plot in advance? I’d say yes and no.
Every microscopic detail of the plot doesn’t need to be worked out but a writer surely needs to have a clear idea of the dramatic arc of the story. There needs to be a firm grasp of the protagonist’s goal, motivation and conflict for the plot to work. Otherwise the reader is left wandering without purpose.
Christopher Booker claims that there are only so many stories in the world and these can be narrowed down to seven basic plots. The seven basic plots are: overcoming the monster; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy; rags to riches; rebirth. His theory is simple, whether they represent the deep psychological structures of human experience or whether they are merely constructs of tradition, no matter what the story, you’ll find one or more of these basic plotlines within a novel. I’ve used this idea to examine my WIP and would class it as predominately a rebirth story and this has helped me work out the shape of the plot.
I see myself as a hybrid (I like that it sounds more exotic) as I need to know the character’s destination but I don’t need to have the exact road map of how he’ll get there. And I’m open to scenic detours along the way.
There are pros and cons to both methods. There’s no right way, just whatever works best for you. I’m a bit of a control freak so plotter is probably my default setting but I like to also remain open to new ideas whilst I’m writing. What are you, a plotter, pantser or like me, a bit of both?