Posted by: victanguera | November 4, 2013

Of NaNoWriMo: Pantsing vs. Plotting

When I travel, I’m the girl with the map. I’m skilled at reading maps (apparently not as common for women). But nothing I do is quite common. Before heading somewhere, I study my map. I look at it from different angles. Memorize street names and turns. Alternate street names and turns. Just in case one of those routes turns out to be a dead end or a road that no longer exists–I’ve had that happen. As a result, I rarely get lost. Unless I’m in Richmond. That seems to be the black hole of maps. Or my ability to read a map.

So I’m not sure why it is that I believe I’m a pantser (autocorrect wants to call me a panther–erm, okay). Possibly because the first year I did NaNo, I religiously waited until November 1st to start my novel. Well, at least on paper. But like my map reading, I studied my story in my head. Not one word went on paper, put I’d thought out characters, different scenarios, locations etc. The idea wasn’t fully formed in my head, put I had the basic plot more or less set out in my head. I may have gotten quite lost in the Richmond of my story, but found my way out eventually. Or maybe the story is still lost in Richmond.

Every year after that first one, I went in with a blank slate. No thinking, no studying. No google for legends, ideas, myths. Nothing. And every year since that first one, my story has failed. I haven’t figured out characters, plot, character arc. My story didn’t even make it out of the driveway. It’s pretty sad writing 50,000 words about your car and how beautiful your driveway looks. Trust me.

This year, I finally acknowledged I operate better with a map and a firm guide on where I’m going. Like a plot. Now the only thing I need to worry about is getting lost in Richmond. But I’m pretty sure if I turn the map right way up, I’ll be able to find my way out of there.



  1. I think this is one of the most important things about writing. Figure out what kind of writer you are, and then cheerfully ignore all the helpful advice that amounts to: “No, be a different kind of writer instead.”

    This applies to genre, to methods, to length, and I’m sure to other things as well.

    I figured out pretty early on that I was never going to have (or want) a map, but that’s me. No reason that should apply to anybody else. On the other hand, it took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out that I’m a mystery writer, but I’ve never thought that realization applied to anybody else either.

    • Ignoring is good. My inner editor/critic especially needs to be ignored. As well as all those bits of advice that tell you ‘rules’ for writing.

      It is so important to figure out what personally works and then just do it.

  2. Hah, yes. Honestly, I think the terms ‘pantser’ and ‘plotter’ have damaged many writers. Just because an author doesn’t write it out formally doesn’t mean they don’t know their stories/characters. Everyone will be surprised by things that happen, ways the story moves that they did not intend, no matter if they define themselves by pantsing or plotting. I figure most every author comes in somewhere in the middle of all that: some know their characters better, some their story better, but there’s always going to be Richmonds in their story.

    I tend to ‘solve’ those by having an idea in my head of ‘X happens which causes Y and Z’ and then figuring out how the Y and Z happen before November so I spend days then trying to figure out potential plot holes rather than losing hours of time in November on it. Some years it works better than others 🙂

    • Exactly. Figuring out how you get from the beginning to the end–or at least what happens at those tent pole moments (1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 of the way through). It it does help you figure out where you have plot holes and potential ways to solve them. Ahead of time.

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