Plotting or Pantsing?

I am working on the second manuscript of the SW Wyoming Task Files, which will be a series of stories focused on a small police force located in Evanston, Wyoming.

Writing the first manuscript, I just sat down, and the words flowed out. I had came up with a creepy criminal, a sad victim, a good setting, and the story unfolded around that. Every time I sat down to write, I had a vague idea of where I wanted to story to go. I had notes in a separate file so I could remember previous details, plot points, names and relationships of minor and major characters, etc.; but the manuscript was largely unplanned. The story did not end up exactly as I thought it would, but I am satisfied with it as a first draft. After finishing, I sent it to beta readers, where it currently still remains. I have had generally positive responses, with much wonderful and constructive criticism.

After a few weeks off, I started the second novel in the SW Wyoming Task Files (The SWTF series). I also had an idea of what this novel was about. About 3000 in, the story was not flowing as well as I wanted it to. So, I decided to sit down and plot it out.

I am not enjoying writing this story nearly as much as I did the first in the series. And writing this blog post, I just realized why, with an epiphany of sorts. It is because I don’t really care about my characters, or the story. Wow, okay, that is good to say out loud (on paper). I still care about the characters from the last book, but when it comes to the new cast, I just want to murder them all off in an explosion or earthquake. Which doesn’t fit the story at all.

I don’t like them because I don’t believe in their motivations, and I don’t believe in them. When I talk about liking a character, I don’t always mean someone I would want to be friends with. I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who might kill or maim me, obviously. But I want to understand a character, I want to believe they could exist outside of my imagination.

When I sat down to write this blog post, it was to lament my unsuccessfulness in using the plotter method to create a novel. Stephen King says he never uses this method, preferring to just sit down with an idea and let the story naturally flow. It is obvious he uses such a method, because the crazy creative shit he comes up with could only come from allowing that creative part of your brain free reign, the part of your brain that remembers every wound and revels in every scar. (I twist-plagiarized the last part of that sentence from one of his many quotable quotes).

So while I may have thought the plotter method would make it easier for me to write this second novel, I have found it not so. I just took down the printout of the plotted chapters from my desk. I plan to go back to the beginning of the story, and read it, and then go back again and rewrite changes. I think this will help me like the story, and turn it into an interesting and entertaining mystery novel. I just need to remove my kid gloves and let the story flow.

I am not, however, deleting that plotter chapter file from my computer just yet.

8 thoughts on “Plotting or Pantsing?

  1. I dont think anyone fully pants it, even SK. Even simple notes or illusatrations can help, its a tough ask to retain everything in the mind.
    Hopefully further writing and a review can get the ball rolling again. When I feel meh about characters I remind myself to round them out and that susbsequent drafts will add depth to them.

  2. I’m definitely more of a plotter than a pantser, but I tend to look at an outline as “loose guidelines”. If something better comes up along the way, then I go with it, and adjust the plot accordingly. Good idea to keep that plotter chapter on hand, just in case. Good luck (and have fun!) with the novel.

  3. Hey, the plotter method helped you know what was wrong. Give it a pat, slip it back into the tool chest, and get yourself a cookie. Yay, You!

    1. I’ll put it in the tool chest but not lock the tool chest. šŸ™‚ It’s funny how sometimes we think what is the problem is not really the problem when we sit down and analyze it.

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