Forcing a Pantser to be a Plotter

This is a cruising blog on a writer’s web page. As I haven’t left the dock in a week because of engine trouble, I’m going to talk about writing for a change.

I’m a pantser. That’s a term that means I sit down with an idea in mind and I start writing. When I’m through—about 60,000 words later—I go back and edit. I fill in the holes in the story. I make sure the characters have evolved and changed. I check for consistency. I look at structure. Is there a black moment? Is there a happy ending? Then I take out all the extraneous words. I read it again and I rewrite.

Plotters, on the other hand, do outlines. They know what’s going to happen in each chapter. They know in advance how the characters will be changed by the events. They know the ending. When they’re through they go back and take out all the unnecessary words and rewrite, just like the pantsers.

My editor wants me to be a plotter and for good reason. Category romance is formulaic. It has a structure upon which a story is superimposed. She has a form with headings that I can fill in, so I can outline the story from beginning to end. I’ve dutifully filled in the blanks for book three, but frankly, it’s stifling. I don’t want to use it. I want to start writing and see where the story goes.

My husband wants me to be a plotter. He thinks 3×5 cards would be helpful, maybe one for each chapter, or each character. He’s an engineer. Enough said.

There’s even software available to help pantsers become plotters. Helpful, I’m sure, but not for me.

Both of my published books were written “by the seat of my pants” and changed often. They were too long for category and had to be cut down considerably to “fit the formula.” In the end, they worked. Was it difficult? Yes. Did I mind? No. Will I become a plotter? I think you know the answer.

New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts, who’s written well over 200 books, once said that she never knows where her story is going until she sits down at the computer and starts writing.

I won’t ever be Nora, but she provides terrific motivation. For me (and maybe for her), creativity lies in the moment. Will it cost me future contracts if I don’t fill in the form? Maybe. But I have to do what feels right for me.

My biggest challenge is forcing myself to do this every single day. I have a tee shirt that says “Even if it’s crap, get it on the page.” It’s good advice. Pantsers rely on editing. You can’t edit a blank page.

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