Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pants? Plot? Theory?

One of the oft-discussed topics in writers' groups is the Pants vs. Plot Theory. Never heard of it? Well, to some it's right up there with Big Bang, Oedipus and Einstein's musings on relativity.

The Pants/Plot Theory infers there are basically two types of writers.

Plotters are calculated, focusing on details, character arcs, dialogue and, most importantly, plot. They map everything out, even if only in their minds. They know the beginning, middle and ending of a story before actually sitting down to write. They have focus, and follow their calculated writing agenda closely.

The term "pantsers" is derived from the other side of the Pants/Plot Theory coin. Those who adhere to this method of writing do so "by the seat of their pants"-- choosing to simply sit down and put fingers to keyboard, follow their characters' leads and let the story take them where it will. They generally have no set agenda other than telling the story, no focus other than that given to them each day by the unraveling plot.

Plotter? Focused and driven? Or pantser? Carefree and spontaneous?

I generally keep mum when the whole P/P Theory comes up. My lips lock tighter than Scrooge's pursestrings and feel more determined than Sisyphus with his stone. Why? Good God, isn't it obvious? In my mind I hear gales of laughter over the admission that I don't know which side of the theory best describes me, my writing. I mean, really, how can I let on I don't know whether I'm a Pantser or a Plotter? It almost seems sacrilegious, doesn't it? So I keep quiet, something that doesn't, I assure you, come naturally to me.

When it comes right down to it I suppose I'm a little bit of both. The panster side has written a number of stories with little more than a hazy idea of where the characters are heading. I usually have an ending in mind, but how to get there? Open for discussion, if only between me and my characters. There have been many times, however, when I've carefully, chapter by chapter and scene by scene, outlined an entire book. Right now, in fact, I've got all 30 chapters of a chick lit novel on file. I've even got bits of dialogue, character traits and notes on settings. There's also a mainstream novel outline languishing in my files. It's about a mail-order bride finding her way in a new culture. That one just needs fleshing out before it can (almost) be called ready for submission. Yes, the notes are so substantial they're nearly a novel.

Hmm... Pantser? Plotter? It might be easier to discuss the Kepler Conjecture than to take a definite stand on this one. Pardon? The Kepler Conjecture? Oh, it's got to do with sphere packing. Kepler's just about proven, nearly a theorum, which is a lot more than I can say about my own Pants/Plot conundrum.

I think I'm going to have to stay on the fence about this one. No, I just can't take a stand on which side of the theory best describes my writing methods. Stand...hmm? I wonder which method Steve (Mr. King) ascribes to? I'll have to take out my dog-eared copy of On Writing and refresh my memory.

What about you?

If you're a writer, which best describes your writing style? Pantser? Plotter? Or do you have your own theory?

And if you're not a writer, what's your plot for getting through a rainy Wednesday? And, are you planning to keep your pants on? Because, really, about the pants? We writers want to know!


Marianne Arkins said...

I'm a bit of both as well. With my novels, I almost always write the ending by the time I'm one or two chapers in. I know where I'm headed. I typically have 15 or 20 scenes I want to include. I have massive character interviews. But the rest? It happens as it happens, and I'm open to changes as I write.

So. There.

Anonymous said...

I'm a procrastinator! But, if I do start writing something I can go flat out for a chapter or two then BLOCKED! Have no idea where I'm going or if the story will ever be finished. That's it, end of story.

Aussie Jude

Anonymous said...

I fly by my pants, definitely.


Melissa McClone said...

I don't know which I am. I know the ending, but the rest is often a mystery!

Dru said...

As a non-writer who writes reports and findings for my job, I'm probably lean more towards plotter since the results will dictate what I write and how I present the data.

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