Or the Art and Science of Making it up As You Go
Recently, I attended a presentation by a hugely successful author who impressed upon the audience the importance of carefully working out the plot of a novel before getting to the business of writing. He advised us that “Pantsing,” or writing by the seat of one's pants, was a sure path to a dead end.
I could see his point, but I propose that there is a third way. One that can give you the best of all worlds.
For those who aren't familiar, Plotting is when you work out all the plot points for a piece of writing, usually a novel. The writer knows what every character is doing, what they look like, their back story, and so on. It can get very comprehensive, with every scene carefully scripted, even before any “official” writing begins. You often see this in the epic fantasy series, where books have multiple complex story lines, dozens of characters, and several 100,000+ novels to write. On the minus side, some writers feel they “write out” the story, having no inspiration for the actual manuscript. Another pitfall is that it's easy to get caught up in world building and research, while avoiding the actual writing!
On the other end of the spectrum is the Pantser. This writer just opens up the notebook or laptop and let’s it rip. Things may kick off with a song fragment or a bit of overheard conversation, but the writer is often as surprised as the reader as to what happens and how it ends. It's as adventurous as it sounds, but it's certainly not perfect. As you may imagine, it's easy to lose the plot, especially in longer works. I will pants my way through a short story (or even a novella, if I’m on a roll), but I’d be very hesitant to try this method on a novel (tip of the hat to Stephen King).
So what's the answer? I respectfully present the Tentpole Method. I was introduced to this by Chuck Wendig (if you haven't read his books, please stop what you're doing and fix that). Basically, you're plotting the key points of the story, but pantsing from plot point to plot point. It's the equivalent of planning a roadtrip from New York to Las Vegas, but intening to take some back roads.
It has the advantages of plotting, but still giving you the freedom to visit that roadside clown museum (or not).
What works for you? What could you give a try? Let me know in the comments.
Until next time,