Pantser versus Plotter
Ah, the age-old question.
Every writer is either one or the other, or some variation in between containing qualities of both. I imagine the last description is probably the truest for most people, though I do know of some rare birds who outline every detail of their WIP and never stray from their plan. And one or two who can sit down with little to no idea of where the story will lead, but with an expectation that they will figure it out as they go.
For a long time, I was a Plotter. I made extensive notes on plot points, characterization, setting, and scenes. I created outlines on plot and did character studies. Everything was laid out in my mind. When I started writing, it was with a clear idea of the story in significant detail. I knew what was going to happen and when, I knew all about the Black Moment and how things would resolve into the Happily Ever After.
In looking back, I think I spent at least twice the time thinking about and planning my stories as I did writing them. I felt I had to get every detail figured out first. If I were to analyze my reasons for this, I would hazard a guess to say it was because I doubted myself. I think I used the planning process as a means of procrastinating the actual writing of the story. But that is probably a topic for another day.
Once I got down to the writing part, I started to realize that one thing about all that planning is that so much of what I thought would be in the story, didn’t make it. The plot would take an unexpected turn or just wouldn’t work logically once I got to a certain point. Or the characters would go off in directions they were never supposed to go. I have pages and pages of notes that look nothing at all like the finished product. Because stories sort of have a way of taking on a life of their own. I blame the characters for most of it.
I struggled with this for a while, spending far too much time trying to force things along the path I had originally envisioned. But a funny thing happened when I tried to push my characters into the mold I thought they belonged in. They rebelled and the story went stagnant.
I had to learn to let go. And once I did, things changed.
Not just my process, which involved a lot less notes and less focus on the plot, but also my situation as an author. Writing under a deadline forced me to make the most of the time I was allotted. I couldn’t waste days or more forcing things to go in a direction that was just not going to work. I had to accept that when things didn’t flow and the story felt off, it’s because it was. I had to trust what my characters wanted and start writing in directions I had never considered going. And I ended up in some pretty cool places.
I can no longer say I am a Plotter, but I am not a pure Pantser, either. Though I still make sure to have a good idea of my story before I start, I do not lock myself in to a specific plan. The most I do before starting a new project is to make sure I know my characters inside and out. I complete worksheets about their backstory, their motivations, their fear, and their dreams. If I run into problems while in the midst of writing, if I feel locked in a corner with nowhere to go, I refer to these worksheets and remind myself who these people are. For me, I now know that the characters drive my stories more than any plotting or planning. As long as I let them lead, they always find a way to claim their Happy Ever After.