There is this pervasive idea that there are two ways to write a novel: either you plan it all out or you wing it.
And what’s worse: both camps think the other way is wrong.
This frustrates me to no end, because the truth is there is no “right” way to write a novel … just your way.
And also, I think that most of us actually fall in the middle of the plotter vs. pantser continuum.
👉 Sometimes we want the creative fire of just writing our way into a scene.
👉 Other times we long for a bit of structure and efficiency in the process.
Why does it matter? Because when we write the story with no organizational strategy, we lose sight of the story structure and can often get lost in the weeds. And if we plan extensively, the emotional journey and point of the story can slip through our fingers.
If we can access the best of both approaches, we can maintain the emotional connection and the creative inspiration while also writing into a solid structure in an efficient way.
So I’ve made it my mission to find and share strategies that blend these two approaches. This week’s YouTube video is a great place to start.
In this video, we’re going to talk about those two descriptors and how – just maybe – the value is somewhere in the middle. I also give you six questions to answer about your current work-in-progress that will blend the best of plotting and pantsing together.
Where do you feel you land on the plotter/pantser continuum? Let me know in the comments!
Hello writers. Today I want to talk to you about my perspective on the whole plotter versus pantser debate. Now, there are people who think that the right thing to do is to plan out your novel within an inch of its life, like you know every single thing that’s coming before you start writing. There are other people who think that the right way to do it is to follow your inspiration, to write and tell yourself the story by writing. But for me, I don’t think that there’s an either/or. I don’t think that there is, you know, only two options, and you’re either in one camp or you’re in the other. I think most of us, if we think of it like a continuum, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We like a little bit of both. We love that energy behind the creative inspiration of kind of writing our way into the story, but we also like to know what it is that we’re doing.
We like to feel like we’re using our time efficiently. The thing is, writing a novel is a massive undertaking. We’re giving the reader a huge amount of information, right? Details about the characters, the setting, the events, the emotions, all of it. It is so much information within the pages of the book. At the same time, we’re trying to entertain and engage the reader. So how do we do all of that? What’s the right approach? What people who fall into the pantsing category really love the fire behind the creativity, right? It feels generative, it feels flowing, it feels passionate. It kind of taps into our unconscious. But a lot of times what’s missed when we go into writing that way is the structure, and frankly, the efficiency of having a bit of a plan before you set out. On the other hand, people who really enjoy mapping things out, it feels so logical, it feels productive, right,
to create that outline. It feels like being able to check things off of a to-do list, and I really am one of those people who really enjoys doing that, so I get that. But what plotters often miss is that they miss that emotional story, the undercurrent of the story, the reason why the events are happening. So listen, there is no one right way to write a novel if you find yourself firmly in the, I want to plan everything out all of the time camp, that’s great. There is nothing wrong with that. And if you find yourself in the, I just wanna write until I have a good sense of what this story is, then great, that’s fine. Do that. We should not be creating this either/or, or um, right way/wrong way mentality about pantsing or plotting. Why not meet in the middle and have options for a little bit of both?
Of course, the problem is this becomes really overwhelming, right? <laugh>. And so my mission on this channel is to give you tools one at a time in small little doses. What I would really encourage you to do is think about what it is that you need in that moment, okay? If you’ve been writing your way into the story and now you’re stuck, what tool or strategy do you need? What kind of tool or strategy do you need now in order to move yourself forward? If you’ve been planning and planning and planning, and you’re missing some of the creativity, what tool or strategy do you need in order to bring a little bit more of that creative fire into your process? At the end of the day, we want to create a story that is structurally sound and also emotionally driven. And so in a lot of ways, we have to marry those two strategies together, and that’s my mission in life, is to help you do that.
I’m gonna give you a list of six questions. Each of these questions are going to be things that we’ll probably address in a deeper way in future videos, but for now, it’s a great starting place. The first question is, why must you write this book? Now, you’ll notice that I’ve got three words in all caps, and the reason is because each of those pieces of this question are crucial. This question though gets to the motivation behind your book and is going to inspire that fire. The second question is, what are you trying to say with this story? This gets to the intention behind your book, and it will become the clothesline from which all of your scenes hang, is that one thing that you’re trying to say. Of course, we’re not trying to beat our reader over the head with the moral of the story, but we do have a statement that we’re making that is a statement about the human condition or the world, just a general take.
The third question is, what is the main conflict in this story? Now, a story is not a story without a conflict. It is an anecdote, and so it’s very important that you have something going wrong for your protagonist that is the thing that they have to overcome or work around over the course of the story. The fourth question is, who is your ideal reader? Who are you trying to reach with this story? This is about the connection that you’re going to be making with that reader through the emotional work that you’re doing with your story. So asking things not just about kind of who they are in relation to other people, but what keeps them them up at night? What do they worry about? What do they long for? These are the kinds of questions that you want to ask yourself. What genre is this book?
If you ask yourself what genre this book is, you will have the answer to where that book is going to be sitting on the shelf when you’re finished with it, what books are going to be sitting alongside it on the shelf. This is an important question, not just so that you can write to the conventions of a specific genre, but also so that you have an understanding of how to shape your story in a way that will satisfy readers and booksellers. And the final question is, where does your story start and end? Now, for some of us, this question is going to be absolutely maddening because I don’t know, I just wanna write until I find out where it ends. Well, that’s fine. My suggestion would be then that you write your first scene and you write your last scene, maybe write three or four different versions of them and see what comes up.
This is going to give you a focus. Knowing where your story starts and ends gives you a sense of the timeline of your story, and it also gives you a target to aim toward as you write through your first draft. Okay? Writers, that was a lot. It is not all of the things, of course, that you need in order to write a draft, but this is a combination of questions that blends that pantser mentality and the plotter mentality, and gives you something to use as you meet in the middle of those two things. I hope you found this useful. There’ll be more to come on each of these little smaller categories as we go along here on how to write a novel. But in the meantime, happy writing!