A Pantser Dilemma--PlottingTo plot or not to plot. That is the question. At least that was my question for years. When I first started writing with publication in mind, I had a story idea, a couple of characters and an opening scene. I took those things and began a book. A year later I had a completed manuscript. I sent if off to a publisher, and five months later I received a rejection letter. That was the first of many rejection letters that I received over the course of twenty years of writing before I finally made my first sale.
During those years, I learned a lot about writing. I discovered that people had actually written books to tell other people how to write books. Amazing! I bought some and read them with enthusiasm, because these were going to be the key to publication. Sadly, that was not the case. I bought a few more books about writing and read, if not all, at least part of all of them. I discovered Romance Writers of America and a local chapter, Georgia Romance Writers. I joined these groups and found fellow writers who taught workshops and gave wonderful advice about writing. I joined a critique group, attended conferences and entered contests. I learned about self-editing, pacing, point of view, characterization, emotions, conflict, character goals and motivations, synopsis writing, and yes, even plotting. Even though I applied the lessons I had learned to my writing, I still didn't sell.
I began to suspect that I didn't sell, even after the lessons on plotting, because I still didn't plot my books before I wrote them. So I bought more books--books on plotting. Pictured below are just a few of them. These are all very good books, and if you are a plotter, they will give you lots of good information.
When I went to workshops on plotting, I did learn about turning points, the black moment and the final resolution. All of this was good, but I would find my mind glazing over with a thick haze when the presenters did graphs and charts with lines and boxes that you had to fill in with plot points. When I tried to plot the book before I wrote it, I would find myself working for hours without much to show for that time. I finally decided to push aside all the plotting charts and graphs when I couldn't answer the questions they required. I couldn't think that far ahead in my story no matter how hard I tried. I just started writing the book. What a freeing experience!
I finally realized that it is all right not to be a plotter. To me, writing a book is kind of like walking down a long corridor and opening the doors to rooms along the way to see what is happening inside. Each room represents a scene. I don't know what will happen until I get there and open the door. I might have a hint as I get closer and see the label on the door.
After I made the liberating decision to go with my gut and write by the seat of my pants, the next book I wrote won the Golden Heart for best inspirational romance in 2003, and the book I wrote after that was my first sale. My second sale was made on a complete manuscript. So I wrote the synopsis for each of those books after I had completed the book. According to my contract, I could make my third sale with a proposal rather than a complete manuscript. This meant I had to come up with a plot. Was I back to the terrifying prospect of plotting? Maybe. I had to come up with enough of an idea to satisfy an editor. This was uncharted territory for me. So I decided that I couldn't give a lot of details about the plot, but I could come up with the main characters' back stories, their goals, motivations and conflict that all stem from that back story. I would throw in a couple of turning points and the black moment that would hopefully be there when I actually completed the book. Now I have sold five books with either a proposal or only a synopsis. On each one, I have had to change the synopsis to fit the final story, because the storyline always becomes more clear as I write it. Nothing about my synopsis is written in stone. Such is the dilemma of the pantser.
So here is my final advice. If you are a pantser, don't let anyone make you feel inferior because you don't plot. If you are a plotter, have a great time making all your charts, grafts and outlines. For the panster, charts and graphs on plotting may come in handy after you have written the book to see whether you have all of those important plot points. But whatever you do, write the way that works best for you. Happy writing!