Are You a Pantser or a Plotter?

Larry Brooks, the bestselling novelist over at Storyfix, brings us more wise words about creating a plot in this next installment of our series on fiction writing.

For an extra boost of fiction advice and tips, check out our other posts on fiction writing, too.

As someone who used to be an avid and vocal plot outliner — and I have the writing workshop scars to prove it — I”ve shifted and softened my position. I’m thinking the debate isn’t about outlining a plot versus organic seat-of-the-pants plotting at all.

Either can work. Either can fail.

One way to write your novel is to start writing the story in an effort to “discover” the optimal plotting strategy. The one with all the bells, whistles and thrills. The seat-of-the-pants plotters – or pantsers, as I like to call them – end up doing one of two things:

They fiddle and rewrite and do drafts until they discover that optimal, best-choice plot. Which means their approach works.

Or, they “settle” for one plot, because all that rewriting is just so darn hard and time consuming. Hey, it’s all about the characters anyway, right? The plot is just there to give the characters something to do.

Wrong. At least, agents and editors consider it wrong. For them, it’s all about story, story, story. Plot is essential. As essential as character. More essential than writing voice, even.

So “pantsing” plot doesn’t work, right?

Again, that’s the wrong question.

Pantsing plot can work. So can outlining plot. Either way, the process is nothing more or less than the search for your story’s plot and the optimization of it. Both methods are nothing other than development vehicles and both offer a creative return, though different.

But here’s the deal. What basic, fundamental awareness of story architecture and the principles of structure are you bringing to your process, no matter how you choose to go about it? If the answer is plenty, then either method leads to a great story.

If you’re just winging writing a novel, if you don’t really understand the principles of story architecture or if you reject them outright, then nothing works. It’s like a building with no proper infrastructure.

It can’t stand tall against a stiff wind.

What works in the real world of published novels

Here’s a fact:

Published books are built on solid story architecture. Period. Every time. Write at your own peril if you don’t have a grasp of that fact before you start writing.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying you have to know your story sequence before you start — I recommend it, but hey, that’s me. I’m saying you need to know the way a story works, technically, before you start to write. Just like a pilot without a flight plan knows how the airplane works before hopping in the cockpit.

You’d be surprised how many writers defy that metaphor — they start writing without knowing how a story works. That’s a shame. Because writing a good story is a learnable craft.

You definitely can pants-fly your way right into a sequentially-sound story that pops out of your head – but only if you know all about the story architecture you’re putting into it.

That’s how Stephen King and a whole bunch of other successful writers do it.

It either is, or it isn’t.

The issue boils down to this: Is your story’s plot built upon the accepted framework of story structure, the one agents and editors expect to see? Or are you making up your own structural paradigm and writing in the dark, just winging it?

Reading stories, even for decades, doesn’t qualify you to fly the airplane.

You don’t ,em>have to have an outline. You do have to have a story built on solid architecture. How you get there…

It’s all good.

Want some storywriting coaching advice? Ready to get published? Check out Larry’s blog, click here to visit Larry’s blog, Storyfix, or contact him for storywriting coaching services and manuscript evaluations.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.