Guest Post by Yvonne Anderson
In a world run by plotters, I’m a pantser. And proud of it.
Well, maybe not proud, exactly, but I embrace the creative style God gave me. That means I refuse to let those stuffy plotters guilt me into outlining, jotting notes, creating character sketches, or otherwise doing a whole lot of pre-writing writing that doesn’t get me anywhere but frustrated. Move aside—I have a story to tell, so don’t get in my way!
In case you’re not up on the lingo, let me back up a bit and explain. A plotter is the sort of writer who has to measure all the ingredients precisely and have them lined up on the counter before cooking a meal. A pantser (short for “fly by the seat of the pants”) doesn’t follow a recipe, but adds ingredients by a handful or a pinch as the inspiration moves her.
Sometimes the prissy plotters don’t realize that we freewheeling pantsers aren’t entirely haphazard. True, some writers start with a “what-if” scenario and run with it blindly. But most of us know from the beginning how our stories will end, even though the events that unfold along the way are as much a surprise to us as they are to our readers.
We all do things differently, of course. In my case, I’ve explored the story world in my mind for months (or years) prior to writing. Before I type the first word, I’ve gotten to know the main characters intimately. I see how they interact with one another in various situations; I note their little quirks; I learn their life stories and how past experiences have shaped their lives. But I don’t write these things down. I simply know them, like you know your child.
I do record some things, depending on the story. Before drafting The Story in the Stars, I sketched out a map of the planet Gannah with the primary features named. This helped me to visualize the story world.
Sometimes I’ll make a timeline in order to keep me anchored, particularly when two separate story lines will later converge. When writing a historical novel some years back (it’s unpublished, so don’t try to look for it), I made a timeline of actual events then inserted the fictional ones in appropriate places.
Occasionally I’ll make a list of minor characters’ names and traits to help me keep them straight. The people of Gannah have an unusual way of keeping time, so I made a colorful chart of their time delineations with a key to how their time compares to ours. In order to help with characters’ travel plans, I used that map I mentioned earlier, which is scaled at 100 km per inch. This enabled me to calculate distances between destinations and the time it would reasonably take to get from one point to another.
I don’t do much of this sort of thing prior to writing, though. Generally, I’ll only organize the information in a list, a chart, or a diagram when I find myself getting confused. And, being a dinosaur, I usually make my notes on paper. I’d much rather refer to a page in a notebook than pull something up on my computer.
All this is a matter of personal preference. Some people scribble their first drafts with pen and ink. Many authors love specialized writing software like Scrivener, because they can keep everything all in one place. But if you like putting your scenes on notecards and rearranging them to see how the story flows best, then go ahead—and don’t apologize for it.
Plotter or pantser—who’s the better cook? Honestly, once the dinner’s on the table, you can’t know which method was used, so don’t worry about it. Just dig in.
A resident of Western Maryland, Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you out of this world. Fly through the Gateway to Gannah for some serious sci-fi adventure: The first three titles, The Story in the Stars and Words in the Wind and Ransom in the Rock, are all available in both print and ebook. Watch for the launching of The Last Toqeph, the fourth and final flight in the series, in the autumn of 2014.