At Thrillerfest 2012, I had the pleasure and honor to meet and hear from the best in the industry. A variety of topics were presented on the craft of writing including: Crafting a Story Outline, Finding Your Storytelling Voice, Creating Mind Blowing Twists, Creating Compelling and Complex Antagonists, as well as talks on plot, structure, publishing etc.* Weaved throughout all the discussions, was the running question – “Are you a pantser (write by the seat of your pants) or a plotter (make and follow a detailed outline). It was incredibly interesting to hear the different takes on this. The two camps appeared to be evenly divided and each ardently defend their respective positions. Lee Child, a self-proclaimed pantser, credits his method with keeping his writing fresh and more exciting. Catherine Coulter also admitted she is a pantser – and is sometimes as surprised as the reader by the ending. Advocates of the plotting method point out the flaws inherent in not mapping out their story and the difficulty in reaching a destination with no landmarks along the way. Plotting is also a good way to save yourself the pain of realizing large chunks of manuscript need to be tossed because they don’t fit the story.
What an immense relief to discover there are so many best-selling authors who sit down and write without a detailed road map. It liberated me from my slavish devotion to outlining and plotting – which often renders me paralyzed when I am stuck on a plot point or story progression. Although I am too type A to be a true pantser – I have discovered that I fall somewhere in the middle – with a foot in both camps – loosely outlining and letting the characters determine where the journey will end.
I can now breathe a sigh of relief and allow myself to loosely plot my story – confident in the knowledge there is time to fill in the holes later. Of course, now I have to abandon my favorite stalling excuse – to wait for a crystal clear plan before I continue with my story. So I force myself to write – even if I have no idea where my characters or my plot is going. I have found that by not obligating myself to adhere to my original outline I am free to hear the voice of my characters more clearly. My writing becomes more authentic, more alive and more real. After all, how can I know what choices my characters will make when I first begin a story – I have just met them. They need to mature, to find their way, and make their own decisions. I am simply along for the ride.