Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pantsing vs Plotting Redux

To be perfectly clear, the discussion on pantsing vs plotting has been ongoing since our first fateful discussion at Capclave.  Since then we’ve given several talks on our differences at various science fiction conventions. If you are at one of these you might drop into our panels to perhaps get a more detailed explanation of how we use our writing tools for pantsing and plotting  .

Jamie Todd took exception in his blog  at my characterization of his approach to writing and, like the typical pantser that he is, failed to appreciate the nuances of my objective assessment.  Case in point, he said:

When I try to plot out my stories, the result is stories that are too neatly plotted ….[these] stories I write organically, without planning every step of the way, have sold faster, and in general been more successful than those that I have carefully plotted out…… Would a music teacher say that it is a wasteful to practice your scales? Would a medical school professor tell students it is a waste of time and talent to intern?
The reason his attempts at plotting fail is that he takes things to extremes.  One does not lay out every mile of a road trip before leaving the driveway.  Instead one identifies the major landmarks, estimates the distances, and ensures that everything is properly packed in advance. The essence of plotting is to identify key scenes that lead the reader to a satisfactory conclusion.  He further accuses me of being one “who plot everything out ahead of time.”  Which is a gross mischaracterization: I merely plot the key points, identify the emotional highs and lows, where humor might play a part, and when bathos or pathos is useful.
He goes on to declare the inefficiency of pantsing, including articles to bolster his numbers instead of confining the argument to writing short stories.
I haven’t missed a day in 656 days now [and have] written 575,000 words ….prior to writing every day, I sold 1 story on average every 3 years. Since my writing streak started, I’ve sold one story or article every 45 days.
To counter that I would point out that Jamie started submitting stories in 1992, coincidentally the same year I began writing again after a fourteen- year hiatus.  Since then I’ve sold about four or five shorts, novelettes, or novellas each year plus produced several novels (some of which were actually published.)  Since I only sell about 20% of what I write I would argue that the two of us are equally productive*.
To be honest our differences are those of scale. While I like setting  up scenes in advance I never know what my muse wants to say until I reach the scene knowing only the character, setting, and the main thrust of what must take place.  Jamie says:
Plotting out things ahead of time has the same effect on me as talking about my stories: it spoils the excitement of the story.
In that sense I am a plotter only at the design stage of development and fall into pantser mode at the development level.  I usually return to plotting (as described in my Ten Stages of Story Development blog post and in a recent SFWA Bulletin article) after the first draft.  This most often involves rearranging scenes or parts of scenes and cutting, cutting, cutting precious words that do not inform the plot. Words are my children and I regret losing a one even though I often see the necessity of doing so.
In the end I must say that although we differ in doing our initial drafts we both use a mixture of plotting and pantsing where and when needed.  In that sense, we continually struggle with how to best harness our muse to do the difficult work of crafting a good story from the raw stuff of imagination and creativity.
We’re writers, damnit!
*I know that sort of spoils my efficiency argument.


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