Monday, July 11, 2011


When it comes to writing, I've always considered myself a "pantser" or a "gardener". For the uninitiated, let me explain.

All writers essentially fall into one of two camps. They are either pantser/ gardeners or plotter/architects. Pantser/Gardeners tend to write by the seat of their pants, or in the secondary metaphor, by having an idea and the nurturing it without being entirely sure what its going to grow up into. Plotter/Architects like to plot everything out before hand and plan everything out.

Though I sometimes make crazy excel charts that relate to my stories, they're rarely plot related. Usually they keep track of characters and their histories. My excel charts might "plot" out the lives of my characters that led them up to the story, but I never actually plan out what the story might be. I generally have a point A and a point B. I know where to start and where I want to end, but what goes on inbetween is up for grabs.

Well, yesterday, that all changed.

For the past week I've been working hard on my story "The Descent of Chris Chappell." You might have noticed that the word count on my Works In Progress page has increased by 10,000 words. I did not "plot" out per say this first 36,000 words; however, I did write it in a different fashion then I normally do. When it comes to chapters, usually I just sit down and write and then break where it feels right. But this time when writing, I know what event I wanted to reach by the end of each chapter. It was strange.

So yesterday, I reached "the event" that I had been working towards with this 36,000 words, the event I decided was a huge change/twist in the plot and would therefore mark the end of the "first part" of the story. I then sent out the story to my critiquers. I don't want to go much further until I have feedback, in case I need to make huge changes.

However, I was feeling restless. I wanted to know what was going to happen next in my story. I knew where I wanted my story to end, but I had no idea how I was going to get the characters from the end of Part 1 to the climax of my story. There were things that needed to happen and the characters needed to change and develop for those things to happen. And I couldn't see it.

But I did have some ideas. So I thought "heck, why don't I write my few ideas down?" So I broke out some index cards and colored markers. I assigned each character a color, even non-main characters, and started writing down my ideas on each notecard. As I wrote my ideas down, more ideas came. But I had to keep track of them all, when my ideas would happen in the plot. So I started laying the notecards out chronologically. But I had too many cards for my desk! So I started taping them to the wall.

And suddenly we got the monstrosity you see in the picture above. My entire novel plotted on notecards.

It's insane. It's crazy! I've never done anything like this. But it feels good. Now when I next sit down to write, I know exactly what I should write.

Granted, these cards don't cover everything that will happen. If I had written out everything that was going to happen, I would have written the novel. But they cover all the big plot points that essentially each chapter should be working towards. And I completely discovered how the climax is going to work. It's crazy how some things clicked together. Crazy how things I "just made up" because they seemed to fit clicked together to make the climax work at the end. I mean that's how a story is supposed to work, but it's still amazing.

I don't know if I'm going to forever change my ways and become a plotter/architect, but for this story, I think it has definitely helped me see the way forward. Who knows! Maybe this is the start of a new era in my writing.

If you're a writer reading this, are you a panters or a plotter? Have you ever tried writing using the other method?

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