RTW: To Plot or Not to Plot

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where the ladies at YA Highway post a weekly writing- or reading-related question for participants to respond to on their own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

This Week’s Topic: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you like to make a detailed plan before you start a project? Or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants and make it up as you go along?

Easy. I’m a plotter, both in writing and in life. I like to have a plan for everything I do: day-to-day activities, traveling, tackling the grocery store, and yes, writing.  That’s not to say I’m a rigid stick in the mud. I am fairly flexible. Things change–of course they do–but anytime there’s a change, I like to make a note of it on my outline. 🙂

Here’s my process for plotting (discussed in more detail in this previous POST):

1) Once I’ve got an idea I’ve stewed over for a good, long while (like, months) I write a twenty-five word (hopefully) high concept pitch, which forces me to get my idea down to its true essence. Later, I use my pitch to write a three-line pitch, then a full query-type blurb.

2) Next I make a basic list of the scenes I already have in my head, which is pretty much an enormous brainstorming session.

3) Then, I tackle a beat sheet, plugging scenes into appropriate places, and coming up with new ones to fill in the gaps. The beat sheet I use is a melding of the one in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and the summary of steps in The Hero’s Journey.

4) Once I have my beat sheet, I make a detailed outline, scene by scene and color-coded, one I follow pretty closely once I begin to write. Of course my scene outline isn’t set in stone. I add and delete as I go, because once I start writing, the story begins to come to life and certain aspects inevitably become more or less important.

Sometimes I wish my process could be less formulaic. It seems so much more romantic to sit down with an idea and just start writing, but plotting works for me and I’m sticking with it!

Tell me… are you a plotter or a pantser?

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38 responses to “RTW: To Plot or Not to Plot

  1. Ooh, you’re very organized with your plotting. Looks like I need to step up my game… 🙂

  2. I’m a plotter pantser. LOL. I actually write a pitch line too–I find that easier to get started. And then I try to outline a bit of the direction–I just started creating beat sheets for my new WIP.

    I WISH I could be more organized. I’m trying with my new project.

    • Kris, I’m only organized because it keeps me from becoming overwhelmed and quitting altogether. I’ve found that I can write quicker if I start with a good outline.

  3. Man, I love hearing about other writers’ processes. I just can’t get enough.

    I particularly find it fascinating when it’s SO different from mine. You were saying you wish your process could be a little less formulaic–I wish mine could be MORE so! I really love the way you lay everything out. If ever I try outlining again before I write, I think it would go something like this. 🙂

  4. I’m also a plotter who wishes she was pantsier. I’ve started to realize that until I know my characters well, I don’t really know what they will do/feel/say etc. So now I’m trying to blend the two methods.

  5. I’m a mix of both, though I wish I had a bit more of your plotting skills. I’m starting to outline my next WIP (it’s a little too complicated to wing it), and I’m finding it so hard to create the outline before the first draft is done!

    • I wish I had a little more of your pantsing skills. 🙂 I bet you’ll be glad you plotted once you get into your more complicated WIP. I find it so much easier to keep all the threads straight.

  6. Save the Cat FTW! You create awesome stories, so clearly this is working for you 🙂

  7. Katy, it’s so interesting to hear about your approach. So clean! So orderly!

    Like you and Rebecca, I wish I could be a pantser. But I tried that on my first novel and it took me two years to finish and ended up over 150K long. I learned my lesson. Now I make excel spreadsheets of my scenes, which bear only passing resemblance to the finished book.

    • Julia, our first novels have a lot in common. Mine took me a full year to write and was 130,000 AND it was contemporary YA! Clearly, I wrote it before I started researching industry standards. Now you know why I’m such a careful plotter today. 🙂

  8. I’ve just started using the hero’s journey this weekend. It does make for a tighter plot.

    • It was hard for me to figure out the Hero’s Journey at first, but now that I’m getting the hang of it, I really like it. You’re right about it making everything tighter.

  9. Second WIP was written using Snyder’s beat sheet but the in-between scenes I hadn’t outlined much tended to waffle so I’m going to step up my outlining next time. Maybe not colour-coded although I imagine that would make for some fun stationery requirements.
    – Sophia.

    • Haha! I color code using the highlighter in Word. It makes for an easy way to see the scenes, who they involve, and how the pacing is working out. I swear by it. 🙂

  10. I am SO impressed by your organizational skills! I really need to start writing out pitches as soon as I begin a WIP.

    • I find writing out the pitch before starting SO helpful for focusing in on exactly what my protagonist wants and what’s standing in her way.

  11. Wow, that’s pretty impressive plotting–especially since you mostly stick to it. I do a hybrid of the two methods, but ended up working on a pitch before I’d finished more than about 5 pages of Crow’s Rest. I found that to be really helpful, so I’ll probably adopt that method for future books.

  12. Holy cow, I am pretty jealous of your organization! And coming up with the one-sentence high concept pitch in advance…. absolute genius. I almost ripped my hair out having to do that one! It’s awesome that you’ve blended other styles to come up with something that works for you 🙂

    • Thanks, Sarah! The first manuscript I ever wrote started without a pitch or any kind of plotting or organization. It was a mess, and impossible to nail down into one high concept. I’ve since learned that starting with a great outline and knowledge base of my characters and their motivations is the best way for me to end up with a cohesive story.

  13. You are a hardcore plotter! Way to go. I sometimes wish I could be more like that, because I think it would lead to less revision in the long-run, but when I’ve tried planning so extensively it’s never worked out for me. Now I know that if I have an opening, an ending, and a climactic scene in my head, I am good to get to work and see how things go along the way.

  14. I’m in awe! What a great way to get to work… although it goes against my pantser nature 😉

  15. I am competely in awe of you. That is wowsome what you do.

    I discovered Save the Cat in January and it pretty much saved my current WIP. But I like to pants it too. Soooo – I’m both. It’s pretty much how I am in life too.

    Great post. Very fascinating. 🙂

  16. I also stew about new ideas for months! I’m sort of jealous of people who just immediately have these perfect ideas spring into their heads.

    • Yes! “A shiny new idea hit me while I was showering today… can’t wait to start writing this afternoon!” Why doesn’t that ever happen to me? I have to think and think and think before I’m confident enough to start writing. Glad I’m not alone!

  17. I love that you start with a pitch!

  18. I’m a part-plotter, part-pantser. The beginning of my writing process is very much like yours. I’d let an idea percolate, then write down a pitch line, which morphs into a query. I’d have several key scenes and plot points planned out, but the majority of my story, as I sit down to write, is pretty hazy. I wish I were a plotter, though! Because so much of what I write end up being unusable.

    • We do have very similar jumping off points! Don’t you love to spend time (weeks, months, whatever…) just thinking about your story and all its possibilities? 🙂

  19. You sound a lot like me. Pantsing does sound romantic, but all of the revision I need to do after pantsing doesn’t sound romantic at all!

    • Yes! Plotting definitely saves me on revisions. Of course, they’re still needed, but not nearly to the extent I’d need if I just sat down and started writing without a road map. Time spent prewriting and planning is well worth the time it saves me in the long run.

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