Ink-Stained Scribe

Pantser or Plotter?

First of all, I'm happy to announce that "The Beggar's Twin" has won the running for which story I pursue in this year's NaNoWriMo. Huzzah! I never did get around to posting the third contender, but the overwhelming support for BT both here and on Facebook (and IRL from Raven and Skryb) makes me think it's this story's time. The energy's there, so I might as well use it.

I've had other good news recently, which has given me an extra burst of energy. No, I'm not telling what it is. Bwahaha. :)

Anyway, I've been working on the plotting and worldbuilding aspects of BT this week, so I thought I'd talk today apropos my methods. (Dude, doesn't that word make me look, like, so totally smart?)

Plotter with Pants!

Most people reading this blog are probably familiar with the Pantser vs. Plotter deliniations, but for those who are less familiar, it's the writer who flies bet he seat of her pants vs. the writer who outlines. I've always been a plotter--I'm simply too long-winded and disorganized not to be. I wasn't, however, always a very good plotter. My outlines used to look like this:

  • Plot Point A
  • Fun scene idea with no purpose
  • "another scene here"
  • Plot Point F
  • ...more stuff happens here that I don't know yet
  • Plot Point Q(ish)
A plan? Certainly. A plot? Enghgghh... I sort of pants-plotted. If that's even a thing. Let's say it's a thing. Anyway, there was no real thought about what scenes I might need, no sense of story structure, and no good way to spot connections or gaps. I planned a story arc with A-F-Q(ish), but then I let my pants take over and do the typing. I do not apologize for that mental image, by the way.

I have no doubt that method works for some people, but it didn't help me get over my biggest weakness: making it all MATTER.

What Fianlly Worked

I'm an INTP, for which the type-name is called "The Architect". I also have Attention Deficit. I want you all to imagine walking into a building made by an ADD Architect who decided not to use a blueprint. I think we can all agree that it's best if I don't pants it.

I stumbled upon Holly Lisle's Notecarding method last year before NaNoWriMo. I know I tout this method all the time on my blog, but that's because it really worked for me. It really helps me look at the ideas I've got and see the gaps and weaknesses, see how it all connects, and tease out subplots and new possibilities.

So Beggar's Twin was a little deceptive in that the summary told you what the story is about without telling you the plot. I didn't even mention a bad guy. Yeah. That's cause I didn't have one. I knew what the main conflict of the story was (girl vs. society), and I knew a lot about the world because I'd written a short-story about it in college. I had characters and an eventual goal...but I didn't know what happened to get them there.

I get distracted by my own thoughts while I'm in my head. I have to plot physically with notecards. Raven often says she thinks about her stories while she drives. I can't do that very well, but over the past few years I've come up with a solution: freewriting.

I did The Artist's Way a few years ago, and one of the best things about it were Morning Pages (three pages of stream-of-consciousness journaling as soon as you wake up). Now, I didn't like doing them, because it meant I had to get up early, and my disposition in the morning is an ugly cross between a wet cat and Gollum with a caffeine addiction.

Rather than complaining about family, work, or friend problems, I always found myself writing about plot problems and ideas. Most of the time, an answer would crystallize right there on the page. So rather than thinking about my plotting woes in my head, where the "I should take a nap--ooh, a chocolate chip cookie!" part of my brain is strongest, I think best on paper.

Putting It Together
Now that I'm writing BT, I've run into problems everywhere. I notecarded the scenes I knew I wanted to happen, but I had a lot of gaps. So I turned to the pages. Here are some examples from my notebook:

  • What should (POV Character) be doing for the first half of the story?
  • I have to decide how (event) is going to play out...and tie it in with (character) somehow...
  • I don't have a villain. :(
  • How should the calendar work?
I've answered all of them just by pouring out my frustrations, ideas, and concerns onto the page without censoring myself. As I came up with ideas, I made notecards and looked for more inconsistencies and gaps. The story has gone from a very unformed mass of characterization and world-building to having roughly 3/5 of my scenes figured out.


I don't have any issue with pantsing; I just find it doesn't work as well for me. However, I don't consider my outlines to be rigid. It's not like the notecards have a permanent sticking charm on them like the portrait of Mrs. Black.

And if you didn't get that reference...

INTERACT: Are you a pantser or a plotter? How do you resolve plot issues? Have you done Morning Pages? Did they help? What's your method for creating plot?