The age old question for writers…

Plotter or Pantser?

I thought I’d use today’s post to answer this standard question writers get asked (and ask each other). For those not familiar with the lingo, a plotter is a writer who thinks out the events of a story in detail before beginning to write. A pantser sits down at the computer with a vague idea of a scene or character and let’s it rip — thus “flying by the seat of her pants,” or pantser.

Anytime you get more than two writers in a room for any extended period of time, this topic is bound to come up. Writers are fascinated by each others’ processes. Seems like no matter how many books we’ve written, no matter how successful we are, we have this need to reassure ourselves we’re doing it “right.”

Me, I fall to the plotter side of the spectrum, but not in the extreme. I know who my main characters are, and a bit about their lives and histories, before I start. I always have an opening scene in mind and ideally I have about 5 major events in mind, one of which is a turning point in the middle of the book and one of which is the climax, or ending.

I can and have written books without having five big events firmly in mind before I start, but  it makes me an anxious mess. Having five events in mind is my security blanket. Really. No need for a stuffed rabbit or fuzzy blankie. Just give me five plot points and I can write the pages to connect the dots.

What I don’t do is write down all the information on my characters and events  in any sort of formal outline or chart. Five plot points, one opening scene, two main characters — that’s less than ten things. Yeah, I can keep that much in my head. On a good day.

The exception, of course, is when I have to write a detailed synopsis (the bane of many a selling writer’s existence) to market the story to an editor prior to writing the full manuscript. Can I just say…agony?

None of this is to say that the pantsers of the world are wrong. I greatly admire authors who can put their fingers on a keyboard and let their imaginations fly with no prep work. Actually, I hate them. But I have to say I admire them because I often run into them at conferences and publishers’ parties and such. It can be awkward.

All for now. This weekend is a big annual search and rescue canine training weekend, with teams coming in from all over the country to work at our Texas facility. It’s always fun since we haven’t seen these folks since our summer whirlwind of hurricane deployments. It will be nice to sit around after training and share experiences from those deployments.

Back to writing-related stuff on Monday as I wrap up the unicorn proposal and begin writing a paranormal short story.

3 Responses to “The age old question for writers…”

  1. 1 Toby C Appel January 14, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! I and many of your other fans were wondering what was happening to you. Can’t wait to read “Legacy” and hopefully the many more you will write in that series. You have used a griffin (a personal favorite)and a pterodactyl so I can’t wait to see what other forms your gargoyles will have.

    Please keep us as informed as possible and we look forward to hearing from you about all your future books. (think you have a fan here? (:))

  2. 2 Kristina Meyer February 3, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Hey Vickie,

    If you haven’t seen me commenting you by now, well here I am again. I can’t help it, your blogs are interesting. I’m an aspiring writer and I have never heard of the plotter or panster question. Is there an in between? Probably not, but I guess I’m more of a pantser. Well thanks for helping find out what type of writer I am. lol Before I hit submit, is there any tips that you have for new writers? I usually look for some hints that experienced writers have for the newbies. I hope you have some! I greatly admire your characters and your antagonists. They make the story interesting. 😉


    • 3 vickietaylor February 4, 2009 at 3:31 am

      Since you’re an aspiring writer, welcome to the world of the insane! I think there is plenty of room in the middle space between plotter and pantser. For example, I lean toward plotter, but that is like a security blanket for me. I like knowing I have somewhere to go before I set out on the journey of writing a book. But often, I stray far, far from the plotted path. In other words, I get lost. 🙂

      Tips for new writers? Read “how to” books, but don’t take them too seriously. Think about oral story tellers. Those people you’d sit around the campfire and lean forward, wringing your hands, to listen to. Try to be like them, but in print. Read fiction, lots of fiction. Most of all *think* of yourself as a writer. You are what you believe. Everything after that is just a matter of learning the details.

      Send me an email if you’re looking for more specifics. I love chatting about writing.

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