I consider myself a pantser when I write because I don’t ‘plot’ my novels. I sit down and I write them. That said, I actually do ‘plan’ my novels in most cases. My typical first draft process begins something like this: New character in my subconscious pokes through to my conscious and says, “Hey! I have a story I think you’ll be interested in.”
Whatever important thing I’m doing suddenly loses my interest. I perk up much like a dog that’s caught a scent. “I’m listening.”
And off we go. However, I rarely start writing the actual book at this point. What I do is begin with sketching out several scenes the character is very enthusiastic about. Often these are turning points for the main plot or one of the subplots. Critical scenes. From these scenes, I learn who the character is, what they want, what stands in their way, and I often meet some of the important supporting characters. Sometimes I even learn how they achieve their goal from these life vignettes the character shares with me. I may not have a detailed outline at this point, but I know from experience that the rest will fill in from there and I love leaving it dynamic enough for my characters to throw me curve balls without it destroying my plans.
That is why I don’t do structured plotting. I love discovering parts of the adventure as I go. When I know exactly every step a character will take before I start writing their story one of two things happen.
- I lose interest because I feel like the story is already written, I’ve already been there, it just isn’t on paper yet. (This used to cause me problems with editing too until I learned enough about the craft to love watching the book improve with each edit pass.)
- My characters are unwilling to conform to my plan and destroy all my careful plotting.
I used to wonder if I might be a better writer if I plotted more. We all question as we go, because we tend to be looking for that magic skill or combination of things that will make it all work. Now, especially with the positive response I’ve gotten on my YA steampunk novel, I have stopped worrying about it. It seems to work.
It is almost time to write the sequel to the YA steampunk. Since I wrote book one over NaNoWriMo and actually came out with a decent first draft, I’ve decided to write book two as my NaNo novel this year. In the interim, have been editing an adult dark fantasy while I plot in my head and sketch out scenes for the next book in the Clockwork Cat series (the next two actually, but who’s counting).
The one thing I have learned as my writing improves is that, whether pantser or plotter or something in between (where I imagine a lot of us fall), don’t waste time worrying about your methods. Do what works for you. Refine your approach, but NEVER, NEVER, NEVER try to force yourself into a method that doesn’t work for you. Find your own. We each have a voice that makes our writing unique and trying to fit yourself into a mold when you write will muffle that voice.