From Panser to Plotter

The devil lies in the detail

In my last post, I discussed my recent holiday time spent staying with a ‘Luddite’ friend in the south of England. In this situation I was obliged to take a different approach to my writing tasks, using old fashioned pen and paper rather than my Chromebook, which I normally take away with me on holiday when the internet is readily available. I’d already started out on my latest novella and written the first act, and a page of the second. Also, thanks to Elizabeth’s Writing Sprints on the wonderful word press blog ‘Eight Ladies Writing’, I’d managed to experiment with the start of a later section of the book, as well as the beginning of the sequel. Thanks to the latter, I was beginning to project ahead and fill in some gaps, like one of those gigantic jigsaw puzzles where there are huge gaps in the big picture but nevertheless the picture is there. And although I always have a general idea of where I’m headed at the end of the story, the devil lies in the detail.

A panser who sometimes wears a plotters mask

The sub heading of this blog is ‘To plot or not to plot….?’. Indeed I devoted my first post to this very subject, pondering the difference between the panser writers of this world, and the plotters. It was one of the reasons I started this blog, to pose the Shakespearean style question and help me to evolve as a writer, as well as sharing these ideas with others. And to some extent, each of my subsequent posts so far have in some way reflected upon this time old quandary, in dwelling upon aspects of life and my attitudes to subjects such as time management, changes of plan, life balance and appropriate use of writing retreats. In conclusion, I decided that I was predominately a panser, who sometimes wears a plotters mask.

Truly comfortable as a plotter

Writing retreats have been turning points for me. They aren’t formal ones, which cost megabucks to attend, but self-imposed, according to circumstance. Often they take place when I’m on holiday anyway, usually staying with friends or family somewhere, and always in nice places like South Africa, Los Angeles, Burgundy, North France, Southern Germany, the south of England or Perthshire in Scotland. Sometimes I have my Chromebook with me, and write or make notes on it. Often though, it’s just pen and paper, and on my last retreat in particular, I came a long way in my writing. For the first time ever, I felt truly comfortable as a plotter.

Where I’m going

As I wrote previously, I start out in pansing mode, getting the feel of my characters as they begin to evolve. After a while I step back, and take stock of the situation. Will this be a short story or a novella? I ask myself. Or a novel even? Then, and only then, do I work out the logistics: important points such as the inciting incident, call to action, dramatic question and so on. Next I begin to work out where I am percentage wise, so that I can calculate word count and main structural points. After so doing, I tend to return to pansing, with, by this time, a greater sense of where I’m going.

A true plotter

Armed with my writing sprints and some work already in place, I took a large notebook to my internet-free zone on my latest retreat, and started out by asking myself all sorts of questions about my characters and where they were in the general scheme of things. Being the second series of my novellas – all of which are still under wraps – a lot of my characters, even the more minor ones, were quite well developed, so I needed to pick up on their story lines. Also, to keep things fresh, there were a whole lot of new characters who needed to interweave with the originals, as the plot had considerably thickened. Each novella has its own main focus, but as they string together to make two novels – each series containing three – there is also an overarching story arc. Gradually the questions provided answers, and with it, the unveiling of not only a plan for my novella in progress, but the subsequent ones, and therefore the collective novel as a whole. And suddenly – I realised – I’d seemingly morphed into a true plotter.

Freedom is priceless

I’ll be interested to see how this situation plays out in the future. I’m fairly certain that at the outset of anything new, I’ll still use the pansing approach just to kick start matters. And once underway, I will switch to being a plotter, at least for a while. Maybe I will then revert to pansing for stretches of time, with some idea of story direction, or perhaps I’ll find it easier to employ the pen and notebook approach sooner, and start asking myself more questions, and slowly join the dots. Or perhaps the story line has to develop a whole lot more, as in the case of these first sets of novellas, until I have increased texture to work with in the sense of plot and character development. Whatever happens, I am free to chose, as in accord with the main name of this site. That freedom is priceless!


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