It’s that time of year again – only 44 days until the official start of NaNoWriMo 2014. I tried to generate a countdown clock, but WordPress isn’t allowing me to embed the HTML code in either my widgets or this post, so we’ll just have to go old-school and mark our calendars…
To prep or not to prep – Pantsers, Planners and Hybrids
Some Wrimos (my term for NaNoWriMo participants) are Pantsers. That is, they don’t usually do a lot of preparation for their National Novel Writing Month adventure. They prefer the adrenaline rush and creative excitement of writing a story as it unfolds, letting the characters guide them and tossing in a plot bunny or two when needed. Or maybe a ninja or two…
They start their noveling month with little more than a vague idea of the story’s arc, fuzzy mental pictures of who might be populating their novel’s world, and a good supply of writer fuel (caffeine and snackage for all-nighters and long noveling weekend days full of word wars and finger cramps). Heck, they might not even have the writer fuel stocked up come 12:01 a.m. their time on November 1, preferring to make a late-night ice cream run over having any sort of plan in place. (If they’re like me, they know better than to stock up in advance because the snackage won’t last until November 1.)
Others are Planners. They compile lists of characters, timelines for the major plot points, backstories for their MCs (main characters) and perhaps some of the more prominent supporting characters, maps of their settings, etc. They even make book cover mockups as a motivational tool. They have large whiteboards filled with colorful scribblings or corkboards (or walls) plastered with neon Post-it notes to keep track of the events, conflicts and journeys their well-developed characters will encounter.
It’s highly likely that these organizing wizards even have their writer fuel categorized and stored in color-coded boxes: Writer’s Block Destroyers, Rewards for Goals Met, Energy Boosters, etc. They also have a full month’s worth of meals prepped and frozen for themselves and their families, knowing that when a writing marathon beckons, they won’t be leaving their computer for anything short of a house fire or dire bathroom emergency. Extreme Planners might even have Thanksgiving dinner ready to be defrosted and reheated.
Then there are those of us who are hybrids. I call us Plantsers, and to commemorate our unique blend of planning and pantsing, I took the two badges shown above (provided courtesy of NaNoWriMo’s Office Of Letters and Light), and created a mash-up just for us:
We have ideas about our stories, perhaps even a rough outline of the main plot arc. We know, generally speaking, how the story is supposed to end. We’ve squirreled away certain little nuggets we want to use – bits of conversation, character quirks and backstory elements, ideas for novelty products we’ve seen in mail order catalogs (sounds odd, I know, but I actually did that in my first novel, Chantal’s Call).
The difference is, our files are all in our heads rather than paper, whiteboards or computer documents. Some of that mental output might actually make it into a more permanent format if, like me, we don’t trust our memories to retain the information. However, in general a Plantser commits less to hard copy than a Planner.
The same goes for the aforementioned writer fuel – a Plantser might know what snackage she wants, but she wisely waits to purchase it until it’s actually needed so that she doesn’t scarf if down in the days leading to November 1. As for meals, she understands the value of a computer break and will either cook, nuke or forage for her dinner at the appropriate time. If she has a family to feed, she might have some options ready for them, but she also has the local pizza joint on speed dial.
Which approach is best?
That’s a trick question. The best approach is the one that works for you.
Planners are blessed with knowing what’s going to happen next because they’ve charted a clear course from Chapter 1 to “The End.” However, if a plot bunny hops into the story’s path or a character hijacks the main plotline, a planner may be stymied by the interruption and end up suffering from analysis paralysis. Assuming, that is, that the planner is deeply devoted (perhaps even married) to the plan.
Pantsers are blessed with the joy of discovery, finding out as they type (or write) what their characters have been up to and learning as they go just what those activities mean in terms of story development. However, when the voices in the pantser’s head go silent, writer’s block looms large and can bring the noveling session to a halt for hours, even days or weeks until a character speaks again.
Plantsers have the best of both worlds. They discover things as they go that weren’t part of the original plan for the story, but they still have a plan to rely on when no one is talking.
I used to be a full-blooded pantser, leaping into a story and running on the momentum of the original idea and a couple of crazy “what if” questions. That’s how I wrote my first novel and its sequel, Brigitte’s Battle. However, I’m finding as I write the third book in the series, Helene’s Hope, that my pantsing ways aren’t serving me as well as they used to. I’m starting to see the value of a basic plan for keeping the writing on track. As I grow in my writing, I’m becoming more of a plantser. And that’s not a bad thing…
How about you? Are you a planner, pantser or plantser, and what do you like most and least about your approach to writing?