Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?
by Caroline Leech
Plotter – a writer who likes to know where they’re headed before they set off
Pantser – a writer who flies by the seat of their pants and sees where the story takes them
Back when I first started writing fiction, I remember reading the Bible that is Stephen King’s “On Writing”. In it he says, “I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted, any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible.” I believed him, without question, that “plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible” and I sat down with a blank sheet of paper and basic idea, and I waited for a novel to appear on the page. Voila!
And words did appear on the page, lots of them, and on many other pages too. In fact, I had so many words that I became quite giddy with the excitement of the creativity and imagination pouring from me, until I stopped writing one day and went back to read through everything I’d written so far. It was only then that I realized that in all the wonderful prose I’d been producing, there was very little which actually moved the story forward. We all know that Plot Graph, don’t we? The one with the Exposition, Rising Action, Climax and Resolution? I discovered that almost four chapters and nine thousand words into my story, I was still at Exposition, like a marathon runner left jumping up and down doing warm-up exercises half an hour after all the other competitors have raced off at the starter’s gun. I had some lovely writing in terms of character outline and setting description, but there was still no hint of a plot path in sight yet. Basically, I had no idea where I was going.
So, while still respecting Mr. King’s wisdom, I decided that perhaps I needed to give myself some help to move forward, not so much strict step by step instructions, but something of a route map. That way, I wouldn’t wander too far off course, and I certainly wouldn’t languish at a standstill again. In that moment, I left my Pantser days behind and became an unashamed Plotter. Okay, an only-a-little-ashamed Plotter, since I love that romantic idea of letting a story write itself, but in reality, that’s just not me!
WAIT FOR ME, my debut YA historical novel which has just been published by Harper Teen, was plotted while I sat in a dentist’s office waiting room. I had had the idea for a World War Two story involving a German prisoner coming to work on a Scottish farm where a teenage girl lives. I had done my research, reading books and websites with posts from primary sources who remembered POWs and Land Girls on farms, and talking to my parents and their friends who lived through the war. I have never been so glad to have been kept waiting by a dentist, because during that time I scribbled note after note about possible events – crises and kisses – about characters’ actions and reactions, and about what might happen in the end. I numbered each note to draw them into some kind of linear timeline, and then I rewrote the whole list in order. By the time I was called into see the dentist – almost 90 minutes after my appointment time in the end – my head was swimming with ideas for this new place and these new people.
After my check–up, I had lunch with a friend and asked if she wanted to hear my story. I read her along my scribbled plot path, and pointed her down the side trails where I thought the map might hold even more treasure, still to be unearthed. By the end, we had both teared up and my fingers were itching for my keyboard.
“Now you just have to write it,” she said.
And I did. Very quickly, in fact, since this story would be my first attempt at NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. Throughout that November, I found it so reassuring to know, every day when I sat down to write my 1,635 words, that I knew where I was trying to get to. Each chapter had a start point and an end point, and I had a vague idea of what lay between. Therefore, I didn’t waste time staring off into space wondering where to go next – the route map was right there in front of me. Of course, the story grew and fattened as I wrote and revised it over the next few years, but the basic structure didn’t change much. Even now, the path set down on that first map is still traceable and I still have the notebook to prove it.
So if you think you’re a Pantser, but find yourself stuck in exposition, or go wandering so far off the story path so far you can’t find your way back, then why not experiment with being a Plotter for while? And you don’t need wait until your next dentist appointment to try it out, trust me, go start creating your route map right now.
Caroline Leech is a Scottish writer who moved to Texas for an adventure ten years ago. Her debut novel for young adults, WAIT FOR ME, will be published in the USA by Harper Teen on January 31st. Set in Scotland towards the end of World War Two, the book tells the story of a girl’s friendship with a German prisoner of war who is sent to work on her father’s farm. Harper Teen will also publish Caroline’s second YA novel in early 2018. Caroline lives in Houston TX with her husband and three teenage children, and she can be found online at http://www.carolineleech.com and @carolinesblurb.
Wait For Me
The perfect blend of sweet romance and historical flavor, Wait for Me, from debut author Caroline Leech, brings a fresh new voice to a much-loved genre.
It’s 1945, and Lorna Anderson’s life on her father’s farm in Scotland consists of endless chores and rationing, knitting Red Cross scarves, and praying for an Allied victory. So when Paul Vogel, a German prisoner of war, is assigned as the new farmhand, Lorna is appalled. How can she possibly work alongside the enemy when her own brothers are risking their lives for their country?
But as Lorna reluctantly spends time with Paul, she feels herself changing. The more she learns about him—from his time in the war to his life back home in Germany—the more she sees the boy behind the soldier. Soon Lorna is battling her own warring heart. Loving Paul could mean losing her family and the life she’s always known. With tensions rising all around them, Lorna must decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice before the end of the war determines their fate.
Buy links – USA – ISBN: 978-0062459886
Buy links – UK – ISBN: 978-0008213398
Thank you so much to Caroline for sharing your story with us! We definitely need an understanding that we, as writers, usually aren’t purely plotters or pantsers, but that we adapt to what we need. Some stories need more plotting, while others need some pantsing, and it will change for each project, each month, each day, and so on.
As always, a huge thank you to everyone who has participated in this feature. Your words never go unappreciated, and we are thankful more than you know!
We hope you have a wonderful rest of your week!