Monday, October 10, 2016

Pantser or Plotter?

by Andrea Renee Cox

Next month is one of my most anticipated ones of the year. Why? Partly because of Thanksgiving, but in large part it is because it's the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I've participated several times now, and this year I even joined in on the two Camp NaNoWriMos (held online in April and July).



What is NaNoWriMo?

Every November since 1999, writers around the globe pull out their notebooks and pens or computers and attempt to write a novel in only one month. The word-count goal is 50,000 words. Some folks hit and/or surpass that mark, while others count it a win to have written anything at all.

There's a wonderful camaraderie in NaNoWriMo. There are forums to chat on, virtual write-ins, and even in-person write-ins. So while each author is working solo on their projects, they never have to feel alone. I've made some great friends through NaNoWriMo, and we continue to encourage each other in our writing throughout the year in addition to the "big one" in November. I've really enjoyed getting to know these folks, and they've inspired me more than they know to push past what I thought my writing limits were.


Planner or Pantser?
NaNoWriMo.org explains the difference.
October is usually a preparation month. What does that mean? Well, it's the month in which we Wrimos (those who participate in NaNoWriMo) decide which project(s) we'll work on in November. If the writer is a pantser (writes by the seat of their pants), then the person may explore some what-if scenarios to come up with the spark of an idea to get them started once the calendar rolls over to that turkey month. However, if the person is a plotter (plans and outlines prior to writing anything), then the writer will spend a lot of October discovering more backstory and research and outlines than could probably fit in one five-subject notebook.

I fall somewhere in between pantser and plotter. I used to be straight pantser, but then I discovered I got lost in the middle portion of my stories, ending up with the dreaded "slumpy middle." So a couple of years ago, I began learning (teaching myself via blog articles and questions to writer friends) what plotting was and how to go about it. Talk about a breakthrough! I would come up with a few major plot points, explore my lead characters' backstories, and then start writing. What I figured out was that, by getting to know my characters and story a bit deeper prior to actually writing the opening line, my story world and content of the book actually took shape better in my mind and became a lot quicker and easier to write out once I sat down and opened a new Word document.

Recently, I tried writing a completely different type of project than I'm used to. Instead of just doing a few bullet-point ideas and a bit of backstory, I decided to try a detailed outline. I didn't yet know much about my characters, but I knew enough to get started. Once I had the basics of the outline, I went through and revised it two or three times. This helped me get to know my characters and locations better while also allowing me to explore the twists and surprises this particular project might just contain. By the time I started penning the actual story, that baby flowed out of me so quickly that the entire project from start to finish took only eight to ten days (not including the contemplating phase I typically go through prior to making any notes on a project).

This year, I'm trying to find a good balance between pantsing and plotting. Why? I don't have a ton of time this month to plot, due to work commitments, so I'm making the best use of the minutes and hours I manage to scrape aside. I love my jobs, and I love writing. I really have the best of both worlds right now.

What am I planning on working on for this year's NaNoWriMo? A couple of projects, actually. One is a novel that I'm revising. It's quite epic. Currently, it weighs in at over 550 pages. Nuts, right? Well, maybe not. I think there's a market for epic novels (just look how well the Harry Potter books went over). Another project is a screenplay (movie script), which I'm very excited and totally tight-lipped about. A third story might creep in there if both of those come crashing to a halt at some point in the month, as NaNo projects sometimes do for me, much to my frustration. To avoid that irritation, I'm going in with a backup plan to my backup plan.


Those are my plans for November.

What are yours?

Will you be joining in on NaNoWriMo?



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