Back to Basics for Writers – Plotter or Pantser?

by Tammy Trail

You might be a PLOTTER if you have ever wondered if you should be more organized with your writing. Plotting is a systematic way of putting your story thoughts together. You might decide to do it by scene or chapter. You will need to know what each character’s goal, motivation and conflict are for each scene. This system may require you to write an outline of your story idea.

A writer friend showed me one method when I first started working on my story. You simply take 3 X 5 index cards and write each chapter idea on a card until you have each chapter worked out for the whole book. If you’re writing romance, a suggestion with this method is using different colored index cards for your hero and heroine. For instance, pink index cards for the heroine and blue for the hero. Using index cards gives you an opportunity to change the cards around to rearrange your chapters, or change the time frame of your inciting incident.

There are many different plotting systems you can find with the help of the internet. I have read the “Plot Skeleton”, by Angela Hunt. Randy Ingermason has a Snowflake system that you can purchase from his website. Scrivener is a downloadable system that helps organize your story and allows you to keep your notes, pictures, outline, and your manuscript all in one place. This is also a great tool if you decide to self-publish your novel.

Some writers may consider themselves ‘free spirits”, and refuse to use any kind of plotting system because it stifles the creative flow. This is the PANTSER method – you fly by the seat of your pants. I started out with an idea for a story with no formal plotting method I imagined my heroine’s appearance, her personality and motivation. Then I created a life for her in the 18th century that I incorporated into a story.

My initial first chapter is now my third chapter, and I finished the book just shy of 70,000 words. When I began to edit my story, I found plot holes; places where my story lost connection and became a dead end. Now that I’ve had time to think about my story, I’ve written a whole different first chapter. Sounds a little crazy, huh?

Well, admittedly I am flustered with the complete process. Do I feel that I’ve wasted my time? Not a bit. I have learned a lot from this first draft. I went back to my index cards and began to look at them in a whole different light. I began to fix plot holes, and really think about deep point of view for my main characters. It’s still a work in progress.

Whichever method you choose, neither is wrong as long as you write the story. I haven’t given myself a label. I guess I’m just a bit of a rogue. I love my characters and the journey I envision for them. One day soon I hope to call myself a published author. I’m still learning through my own journey. How about you?

Writing Prompt:  Tracy pushed the off button on the remote just as the first clap of thunder shook her little house. She went to the kitchen to retrieve her flashlight; storms and electricity didn’t get along in her small town. The flashlight was forgotten when she heard a  rattle at her back door. She watched in awe as the doorknob shook violently from left to right. Then the lights went out.

Click to Tweet: So you want to #write. Back to Basics – Plotter or Pantser?

9 thoughts on “Back to Basics for Writers – Plotter or Pantser?

  1. Hi, Tammy. I’m a plotter in all areas of my life. I have to think through ideas, organize, and have a plan whether approaching a project at work or planning vacation. Every “t” is crossed and “i” dotted. Except when I write. Isn’t that odd? The idea you shared about the 3x5s and colored note cards sings to my heart—in my normal life. In my writer life, I would spend so much time plotting and loving all my note cards, I’d never start writing. When it comes to story, I have to jump in and see where it goes! I enjoyed your post today!

  2. The novel that’s floating around in my head feels like it is going to take on a life of its own as I write — more punster style, but I love, love,love the idea of the colored index cards to put scenes and characters in perspective yet move them around too. Great idea!

    • Hello Lynn! Thanks for stopping by and reading my post. Don’t you just love it when the ideas flow, and the index cards help with that so much. Just write all those ideas down and see if they work. Happy Writing!

    • Hi JP! Thank you for stopping by and reading my post. I think your a closet Pantser! LOL Your characters will certainly rule your world. Happy Writing!

  3. Great post!! Love the step by step instructions. Guess that means I am a plotter😳. I used the index card method to write over 50,000 words in a NaNoWriMo one year. I bought a roll of Velcro tape and hot glued the looped side to the wall of my writing room high enough that the kids couldn’t reach. I then stuck pieces of the hooked side to the back of my index cards. They were off the floor and were easier to move around when necessary. Of course, I pulled a nasty chunk of painted over wallpaper off when I wanted to remove it … but it was worth how organized AND flexible I felt.

  4. Hi 3rdletterwriters! Thank you for stopping by and reading my post. So glad you liked it! I’m impressed that you did NaNoWriMo. I could never stick to the daily word goal. Another skill I need to acquire in my life. lol. The index cards are a great tool. I have tried to tape mine to a “story board”, it’s one of those tri-fold poster board that kids usually use for the science fair. This works very well, and you can still move your cards around and fold it away when you need more room. Happy Writing!

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