Writing fiction: is there a right way and a wrong way? Is planning the best way? Or not? I think Robert Frost in his poem The Road Not Taken nails it.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/ And sorry I could not travel both/ And be one traveler, long I stood/…And both that morning equally lay…
There really isn’t a right way or a wrong way to write fiction. Now I’m not talking the basic nuts and bolts of good writing like characterization, dialogue, conflict, grammar and punctuation, but how the words get from your mind to the computer screen (does anyone still write by hand or <gasp>– on a typewriter?)
There are two main schools on this issue, those who plan and those who don’t.
Are you familiar with Winnie-The-Pooh? I heard Christian comic and pastor Steve Geyer break down personality types by the characters in Winnie-The-Pooh. The images are so good, I’ll share them here – but all credit goes to Steve 🙂
Owl – slow to make a decision, slow to act
Rabbit – quick to make a decision, quick to act
Tigger – more action than thought – all bounce no strategy
Piglet – a people-pleaser — can’t make any decision
You might feel this is over-simplified, but it’s actually quite accurate. Piglets always seem to find Rabbits, and Tiggers are drawn to Owls. Which one are you? You may be a combination. I’m more a Rabbit/Tigger kind of person. Marcy…Owl/Piglet all the way. Here’s how these character traits plays out in how we write.
You may be a planner if sitting down at a blank screen with a flashing cursor makes you cringe. You may be a planner if after getting an idea for a story you create a character chart or timeline. You may be a planner if you need to write an outline before writing anything down. You may be a planner if you can’t start writing until you know how the story ends.
def: Those who write by the seats of their pants.
You may be a pantser if the first thing you do when you get an idea for a story is sit down and start writing, right now. You may be a pantser if you see value in just getting it all out in a vomit draft (what I call a first draft). You may be a pantser if sitting down and forcing yourself to write an outline feels like it takes all the fun out of writing.
I am a happy pantser. When I get a story idea I can’t wait to start writing, forget planning, forget outlining – let me get it all down NOW! If I know how the story or conflict is going to end when I start, then why bother writing. I will write three or four vomit drafts before settling on a tone, voice or character that I really like and begin editing. Not very efficient, but by the end of the process I know my characters inside and out.
Marcy is an all-out planner. She can’t write without an outline, makes her break out in a cold sweat. In fact, we’re working on a novel together and the subject line in the last email she sent me was: a pre-plan plan. I’m not kidding. She planned to make a plan. Is this you?
Neither method for writing is wrong, and perhaps you’ve found a way to blend the two. When all else fails and I’m totally stuck, I will plot or create character charts – but that’s my limit. And chances are very good that sketch will change, that’s just how I roll. Sometimes when I write I feel like Dug the dog from the movie UP! Squirrel?
Marcy will spend weeks planning and charting and outlining before she ever sits down to write a single word. When she does write though, it’s a more polished piece from the start.
Planning is more efficient, but pantsing is way more fun imho. Neither is right or wrong, but one method will likely come to you easier than the other. Stephen King in his book On Writing is a self-proclaimed pantser. He doesn’t know how a story is going to finish when he begins. He starts with a basic What If premise and just writes. Ted Dekker is a planner. He says he molds and shapes the stories in his head for months before ever sitting down to write anything. Both men are very successful in their own genres and have large followings – it’s just part of who they are.
Are you a planner or a pantser?