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November 7, 2012

Becky Banks: Plotter vs. Pantser (guest post)

Donna, I’d like to first thank you for hosting me today for your Writer’s Wednesday piece. Today, I’d like to dive into the Plotter vs Pantser writing styles, is one better than the other? And can an author have both?

For those who’ve not heard, there are two styles of writers that exist, the Plotters and the Pantsers. Plotters are a type of writer who methodically outlines their entire manuscript before writing a single descriptive word. Pantsers write, as the name suggests, by the seat of their pants, as the story unfolds in their mind, they write it, in chronological order or not.

I’m the author of two romance novels (The Legend of Lady MacLaoch and the newly released, Forged) and am a Pantser. As a Pantser, the characters and scenes rush out at you, waking you up in the middle of the night with their vividness. The visions we get are striking, as if we’re replaying a movie in our mind but get just pieces at a time. They’re written in the moment and have a raw emotional quality that is tangible. The Pantser’s dilemma is not starting a story, or creating character dialog, or character profiles, it’s the ending. We have a hard time ending our stories. Not just the final scene where everything comes together and the hero and heroine live happily ever after, no, the last five chapters. Or the last ten. Those are the hardest. Those are the ones that tie everything together, the point of the story that provides the glue for the rest you’ve already written.

In my first novel I wrote like the dickens for three weeks straight and completed the first rough draft. It was, as Anne Lamott says, “a shitty first draft,” but there it was. It was done. After the first round of edits, it became obvious that I was going to have to write an outline. I had characters walking into town bars the same day they were supposed to be out of town. It was a mess, despite the emotive dialog.

Plotters. As a plotter, you don’t run into end-of-story issues. Everything has its place. Plotters, I’m convinced, have a touch of OCD. Every character is outlined, profiles are made and the story from beginning to end has been planned. I listened to the NYT Bestselling author Phillip Margolin speak at Wordstock (the literary festival that is held in Portland, Oregon each year) a few years back and this is his preferred writing style. Make an outline and stick to it. When asked what he does when a character doesn’t abide by his outline, he said to simply update your outline. His feeling was that an outline could be just as creative as winging it. Up until my second novel I wasn’t convinced.

Writing my second novel I realized that, as an author, you carry a lot of your work in your head as life happens around you. Characters, plots, scenes, and dialog. To ensure that none of it was lost I began writing it down, like you would an outline, so I wouldn’t forget. The next thing I knew I was creating scenes then double-checking that they went with the storyline and the intricacies that I’d notated at each chapter. I was Plotting.

As I sit here in this Southeast Portland coffee shop beginning my next novel, one that I will write over this winter, I’m doing something I thought I’d never do. I’m writing an outline first. I’m Plotting. In the same breath, though, I’m writing down scenes, dialogue and characters as they flood in, you know, as a Pantser would do.

In the end, the general rule of Plotters and Pantsers applies to the author population. There are those who will wing it and there are those who will outline it. However, I believe now that there are the few, the fringe, who abide by no writing rules – we are the Pant-otters.

About the Author:

Becky Banks grew up, like the generations of Bankses before her, in the Hawaiian Islands. With the Islands as her roots, Becky was raised within the time-honored tradition of “talking story” amid a backdrop of grassy fields, blue waters, and cloud-clad mountains. She moved to the mainland after high school to attend Oregon State University, where she studied forestry, natural resources, and science education.

She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband Keith.

Becky’s first novel, The Legend of Lady MacLaoch, received Night Owl Reviews’ Top Pick Award and achieved #8 on the Amazon Bestsellers list for Historical Romance.

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