Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Plotters, Pantsers and Quilters

On Saturday, March 9th, Sarah Kades and Mahrie G. Reid lead a great, lively workshop on "What is your writing style? Plotters, Pantsers and Quilters"
What is your writing style?
(Image: © Photoroller

So, I decided to consider my own process.  I've experimented with a lot of different approaches to writing over the years, and, oddly enough, I found something beneficial about each. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with the terms, here is my definition (you may have a different one):
  • Plotters like to have a detailed outline before they sit down to write the scenes.  They like to know everything about their characters and the plot. 
  • Pantsers like to "write by the seat of their pants." They sit down and start writing without first developing a detailed outline.
  • Quilters write scenes, sometimes out of sequence, and then quilt them together later. 
(Another take on the various writing approaches is George R. R. Martin's idea of architects and gardeners, which is perhaps a more elegant description.)

For the first novel length story I wrote, I started with a scene.  It came to me in vivid detail, and I knew it was likely from the climax of the story.  Then I had to go back and figure out who these characters were and why they were in this situation.  Then another scene came to me.  Then another.  Based on those few scenes, I knew where I was going and the rest just followed.  My story was also placed loosely within the context of historical events so I had a larger framework for my story to give it a bit of structure.  After this story, I was hooked on writing!  Yay!

I wrote a few other novel length stories after that first one, prior to joining ARWA, the writing group I belong to now. One was a sequel to the first story, so I knew who the main character was and my story developed from there.  The first scene of that story was inspired by an article I'd read in an 19th century newspaper, and from there everything fell into place.  It was again tied loosely to historical events, so that helped drive the story in some ways - I knew my characters had to be here or there at different times.  The next one I wrote was contemporary.  Again, it started with a scene, but in this case the scene ended with the death of everyone in the scene... so I needed to figure out what happened and what the consequences would be.  It ended up that this scene could have been a prologue, but I decided it wasn't actually necessary for the book to work.  To me, the risk of the quilter approach might be to place value the various scenes and try to make them fit, whether or not they actually have a function in the story. 

It is around this time that joined ARWA, which was just starting a  program designed to guide people through writing a book from start to finish.  Their approach was quite systematic.  It was a plotter's approach.  So, I tried it.  The researcher and organizer in me rejoiced.  So, I tried it again for my next book.  At the end of that second one, I was bored silly of the story way before I finished the final scene.  There was nothing new and exciting.  I'd known exactly where I was going for months, so it felt like I was just filling in the blanks.  It got me to "The End" (though that really hasn't been an issue for me) but my passion for that story had faded. To me, that boredom is the risk of the plotter approach.

Then, on a different story, I went fully into pantser mode, and I got stuck.  So, I rewrote the beginning (quite substantially).  But, when I started moving through the story again, I came to another point I couldn't resolve. So, I started plotting to get past that point.  To me, the potential of extensive rewrites is the risk of the pantser approach. 

So, my typical process now is to have a scene or a few characters to start, then I brainstorm the conflict, a few turning points, the black moment, and the climax.  These items may or not be more than a few scribbles on a white board.  From there, I wing it.  If I get stuck, I do more plot development and brainstorming. 

To be fair to my determination to learn to write, I've also read a lot of "how to" books on writing and attended a lot of writing workshops over the years. I think my brain has likely absorbed some of those exercises and approaches, and I suspect I may use some techniques now without as much conscious thought.  So, perhaps when I think I'm pantsing, I may be doing more plotting than I realize.  Who knows?  All I know is that it works for me!

I guess what I'm saying is that I am not fully pantser, plotter, or quilter - but I've enjoyed experimenting with and learning about all of them.  It is also reassuring to know if / when I get stuck on a story I have the knowledge and experience to find away around the problem.  I wouldn't have had that if I hadn't taken the time to explore the different writing styles and techniques.

Do you have a writing style?  If so, what is it?


sue said...

Good post! I’m basically a panster. And I never heard the term quilter before but *raising hand* I’m one of those too. When I wrote for NaNo this year I started with scenes. Within those scenes I just wrote - panster within a plot outline. I ended up with a file called misc and a file called leftovers. These are scenes or parts of scenes not included. Now I know they would be quilted in later when appropriate.

Sarah Kades said...

Good post Lorraine! Finding your writing style can be an adventure. Your approach is grounded and real and glad you found it! We learn from doing, others, books, etc. Then find our own path.
Write on, sister!
Sarah Kades
PS Glad you enjoyed Saturday. ;)

patonlorraine said...

Hi Sue,
Isn't it great to have a process you like? I think that was the take away from Sarah and Mahrie's talk - honour your own writing process.

I like the idea of "leftovers" file. I know I never delete *anything* :)

patonlorraine said...

Happy writing to you too, Sarah! :) I think I probably adjust my writing style with each project, and that's what makes it fun.