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Monday, July 11, 2011

No Longer A Pantser

Okay, let's face it: we all came to this earth with different strengths and weaknesses. We have taken some of those strengths and made the very most of them. We've tried to improve our weak points, and if nothing else, accepted that we can't excel in every facet.

I lack organization skills. I do. My brain gets scrambled easily, and so I either make lists to keep myself on track, or I spend days at a time flying by the seat of my pants doing a whole bunch of who-knows-what while accomplishing very little and exhausting myself in the process. (I know that sentence was exhausting, but I don't see why I should be the only one tired around here.)

Anyway, there's a point to all this. I'm seeing a similarity to the way my uncontrolled me lives my non-listed life, and the way I wrote my first novel. Sure I knew my protagonists, my antagonist, and the main conflict, but beyond that, I was a free bird. Flying where ever the wind took me. And guess what, I loved it. It was so much fun. For me - the writer. Turns out it may not be as much fun for the reader. (See step number two in Victoria Mixon's How to Plot Wrong, in 3 Easy Steps .)

I was seriously letting my characters lead me through every adventure while neglecting the fact that I was supposed to be driving my plot every word of the way. Of course there was plenty of 'character development' happening in those scenes, but not all of them were relevant. And here's what I ended up with: a 180,000 word novel. I gradually got it down to 150,000. This is what my test readers reviewed. Still too long. I then managed to kill enough of my darlings to slender it down to a whopping 123,000 words, but it still wasn't enough. I did more research and reading, more growing and learning, and eventually whittled the piece down to where it happily resides at a lovely 89,000 words.

This time I'd like to avoid the nearly 100,000 word detour and stick right with the plot. Did I gain from this experience? Yes. And I wouldn't take it back, but I certainly won't do it again. This time I'm plotting it out. Mapping the direction of my book, scene by scene, to ensure that each part serves its maximum purpose.

Do I still find surprises along the way? Of course! And I'll go with them; luckily my outline is not carved in stone. As a writer, I am forever flexible. But I'm hoping to kick out a better product the first time around.

With all this said, I am not one to say what is right and what is wrong. I've only learned that, for me, it's much better to plot than to fly by the seat of my pants.

So what works for you? Does pantsing serve your writing purpose, or are you a plotter? What about in your everyday life? C'mon, I've told you about me, now I want to hear about you.