Plotting or Pantsing? Which is better?
by Lynette Eason
Getting from POINT A to POINT B isn’t always in a straight line
Do you ever sit down to start a new project and stare at your screen with equal parts anticipation and fear? I’ve written right at 50 books, novellas, etc. I’m traditionally published, which means when I sit down to write a story, I’ve already been paid for half of it. That, in turn, means I have to write the story or I have to give the money back. And since the money’s usually already spent…well, you get the idea. There’s no turning back at this point. Somehow, I have to start this story and finish it. And, in the end, it has to be phenomenal. Or at least publishable.
Last month, I turned in the last story in the Blue Justice series. So, while that series has come to an end, it was time to start the first book in the next series. I’ll be honest. The first book always terrifies me. Why? Because I put so much pressure on myself to get it right and that’s generally a crapshoot because, by nature, I’m not a huge plotter. So what does that mean? It means that I don’t really get it right the first time and I have to go back and make changes as the story unfolds.
But wouldn’t it be easier to simply plot the story out?
Maybe, but since I write on such tight deadlines, I don’t always have the time to spend plotting and thinking, thinking and plotting. I have to get the words on the page and then fix them later. However, that’s not to say that I don’t have a process that works for me. And it’s usually a route that takes me around my elbow to get to my rear.
I tend to start out with a character sketch then I figure out the first scene—and sometimes the last— then jump into the story without any real idea of where I’m going. Sometimes I struggle my way through it and swear that with the next book, I’m going to plot everything in advance, and then in the end, it just works out. Sure, I have to go back and add in red herrings or foreshadowing or tweak a character’s reaction to a situation or whatever, but again, in the end, the story works. Other times, those rare times, the story just flows. Like a gift, the words come as the scenes play out in my head and the characters do what they’re supposed to do. Code of Valor, book 3 in the Blue Justice series was one of those stories. I struggled with it a bit in the beginning, but as soon as I got the first few scenes done, I knew the rest of the story and where it needed to go.
Because I don’t use storyboarding or mapping or any of those really creative, cool devices, I get asked a lot of times how I do it.
“How can you just sit down and write and, in the end, have a story that not only works, but has all of the loose ends tied up in a way that makes sense?”
Aside from having fabulous editors that catch mistakes, I think it comes down to characterization. For me, I have to know my characters. I have to know how they think, how they react to life in general, their strengths and weaknesses, etc. Then I put them in situations where they have to draw on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses in order to grow and become a different person by the end of the story—a better person. And sometimes they have someone in their lives that helps make that happen.
In Code of Valor, my heroine comes from a very abusive past, but, thanks to counseling and someone in her life who graced her with unconditional love, she was able to overcome a lot of her issues. She learned her self-worth doesn’t come from what other people think of her and that just because she made some mistakes in the past, doesn’t mean she has no hope of a successful, happy future.
And, in the end, I wind up taking these characters on a life altering journey. A journey that allows me to experience the ups and downs and surprises along with them. A lot of people argue that you can’t have a really great story unless you plot it out in detail, but I know a lot of people who’d argue with that statement. Lee Child is one of those. I was at a conference and he stated that often he didn’t know what he was going to write in the next paragraph, much less the next scene. I wish I could have told him how much I appreciated that! Then there’s Jeffrey Deaver who said he takes eight months to plot out his novel then writes 110,000 words in six weeks. I might have been a bit jealous, but I’m sticking with what works for me.
And that’s my point. There’s no wrong way to write a novel. Plotter, pantser, or plantser. There’s only the right way—and that’s the way that works for you.
What about you? What’s your system? What works for you?
Lynette Eason is the bestselling author of Oath of Honor, as well as the Women of Justice series, the Deadly Reunions series, the Hidden Identity series, and the Elite Guardians series. She is the winner of two ACFW Carol Awards, the Selah Award, and the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award. She has a master’s degree in education from Converse College and lives in South Carolina. Learn more at www.lynetteeason.com.