A Pantser or a Plotter?

A question I’m sometimes asked when I tell people I write novels is whether I write “by the seat of my pants” or plot everything out in detail. Both are valid ways of writing a book, and which one to use depends on the writer. Some people prefer to write the book as it comes to them, having no clear idea of how they’ll get to the end of the story–or even how the story ends. Others are more comfortable planning everything out, creating either an outline or storyboard that describes each scene in the book.

My answer to this question is… both!

When I get an idea for a story, it almost always comes with an initial scene–usually what becomes the opening scene of the book. And ideas never come gently to me. They always strike me with an intense passion that makes me want to act on it right away.

So, I start by writing that first scene that came into my head. Often that first scene transitions to a second scene, then a third, and so on, until I have a few chapters written. These scenes come easily and flow one after the other in succession.

Writing that first scene right away is important to me because it gives me the chance to create the voice I want to use for the story, and to see if I enjoy writing it. There’s nothing worse than taking the time to storyboard an entire novel only to find your heart isn’t into it when you get down to writing.

But at some point, the next scene doesn’t come easily, and I find myself lost. The story went on the right path to get to where I was, but I now have no idea where the story will go.

That’s when the index cards come out. I would pull out a deck of blank index cards (or nowadays, I go to the Corkboard view in Scrivener) and start building a storyboard for the rest of book. At that point, I storyboard everything, right up to the end, creating a new card for each and every scene in the novel. I don’t bother to storyboard what I’ve already written. I just start where I left off.

But I’ve found I often don’t follow the storyboard too closely. At some point, I get back into the flow of things, and I’m writing by the seat of my pants again, following a path that perhaps runs parallel to the one I storyboarded, but is distinctly different.

Now, I haven’t always written this way, but it is the technique that has enabled me to finish a first draft. Nothing else has worked for me.

I have a process for creating my storyboards, which I’ll detail in an upcoming blog post. So until then, keep writing!