There’s two (sometimes three) terms for the way in which those who write stories approach the writing process. You’ve probably seen them referred to as “Plotters” and “Pantsers.” Plotters plan their story out before they actually start writing anything. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants. Recently a new term has come into play, “Plantsers,” people who start with a basic plan of a loose guideline of specific events, and they wing the rest of the space in between (that’s me).
What’s beginning to irritate me is that many Plotters think they’ve got the secret key to the universe. They go on and on in their blog posts and advice columns about how important it is to outline your book thoroughly, and how it’s absolutely necessary to do it right, and how outlining is the best way to do a novel because there’s so many problems when you try to do it any other way.
Um . . . no.
It’s true that planning the writing of a book often takes more work and effort than many people anticipate when they sit down to bang off that story they’ve had rattling around in their head. And there’s a lot of people who start and not many who finish. And yes, it’s true that there can be problems with Pantsing it that you won’t run into with Plotting it. You might end up with major plot inconsistencies that you’ll have to deal with in the edit. You might find that the plot goes into a completely different direction than you started with. You might get confused about character details. You might find plot holes you can drive trucks through that need to be fixed.
And maybe you find that really frustrating. But there are also problems with Plotting. For one thing, what happens when your character does something completely unexpected and takes the whole story in a different direction? I know, your answer is either “My characters wouldn’t do that because I’m in charge of this thing,” in which case, I say you might be losing some of the passion and emotion of the character (and don’t say “no I’m not,” because you wouldn’t know because you’ve never had a basis of comparison); or you’d say, “Well, I’d revise my outline then,” in which case I would say that this will take as much time as revising a Pantsed novel, and since that’s the major reason you give to support that “your way is better,” I find your argument to be insufficient.
Some people lose desire to actually write the book if they’ve already planned it all out beforehand. And some people start this outlining thing and become so intimidated and overwhelmed that they give up on writing the book. And some just find it ridiculously freakin’ boring and lose interest if they try to do it.
I think that if this is the way you’ve approached your advice on Plotting, you are giving bad advice to would-be writers. You’re possibly aborting thousands of writing careers before they have a chance to birth their novels into the world. Perhaps it might be better to consider advising people to give your method a good solid try to see if it works for them, rather than insisting that square pegs fit into round holes. What works for you just might not work for another person.