As my newest novella, Shadows and Nightmares (buy it on Amazon!), is now published, I thought I would talk a little about a question that many ask me. How do you write a story?
Really, this question could be better phrased as, “how do I write a story?” Every writer is different in their method. And what works for one writer will not necessarily work for another. So, what I’m going to do is give you an insight into how I approach writing. Today, I’ll talk about the first task that I do when I start to write.
The Plotting vs. Seat-of-the-Pants Spectrum
I used the word spectrum. Sounds smart, right?
Anyway, many writers land somewhere on the scale between being the person who plans every scene or who just kinda wings it. A famous plotter is James Patterson, and a famous pantser is Stephen King. Neither way is better than the other.
As an INTJ, I fall on the plotting side. I create a plan, a framework going forward. One of the things I do is write out a brief summary of every scene (chapter) in my books before I write them. In my summary, I include things like location, time of day, character development, how it moves the plot forward, etc. This allows me to keep the story moving.
However, I don’t plan the nitty-gritty things in my outline. If I do that, I lose the ability to be flexible. Playing within the framework is important to me. I discover nuances as I write. Sometimes, I’ll change little things as I go to plug plot holes and the like.
The advantages of plotting are several. 1) I always know where I am going. I never feel lost as I write. The bones are already there. All I have to do is flesh them out. 2) I rarely have to cut a scene, because every scene has a purpose in advancing the plot. In fact, I usually add scenes in the initial editing phase. 3) I know what my characters will do before hand. This eliminates a lot of plot holes/inconsistencies.
The pantsers’ advantage is that 1) their writing can feel more organic. They are literally discovering what happens as they write. 2) They are more open to changing the plot as demanded. Nothing is set in stone. 3) Their characters can seem more dynamic.
Because plotters do much of their work upfront, they do less editing after it is written. Pantsers do less work upfront, but generally do much more editing on the back end. The work still has to be done either way.
Which approach works best for you?
(Here is a great article by Anton Vann on how to write either as a plotter or pantser. It’s longer and gives a you a lot of great ideas.)