Friday, September 16, 2011

Pantsing and chaos

As I write this it's Thursday evening and my mouth hurts from a trip to the dentist. I can still feel where the needle went in to numb the area in preparation for drilling a ginormous hole in my wisdom tooth and then refilling it with metal or perhaps drywall mud, I have no idea. Before the drilling began the dentist and his assistant and I had a nice if brief chat about books that I wished could have gone on longer because it's always fun to talk about books and find out what people like to read, plus it would have delayed the drilling. But the drilling had to commence and anyway I'm fine now, except my mouth feels weird. While it's possible I may have had a post topic in mind earlier today, if I did it's gone now. But I am determined not to miss another Write Club Friday, so I'll be doing this by the seat of my pants, which makes it just like everything else I write.

The whole "pantsing v. plotting" thing is something I've thought about quite a lot this year. I have repeatedly used different methods of outlining and filled out several kinds of character worksheets, and none of it ever works. Once I start writing all bets are off. Despite reading numerous writing advice articles that stress this is how professionals do it, it still doesn't work for me to plan out every detail before I start writing. Filling out all those outlines and worksheets is  a very left-brain logical and orderly type activity, or at least it seems so to me. The actual writing, the storytelling, is more of a right-brain creative and intuitive act. What I have a problem with is reconciling the two so that I can be more workmanlike and professional with my writing instead of ruminating over things and turning ideas over in my head until I figure out what works best for the characters/story.

It seems to me there's a component beyond outlines and worksheets and daily word counts that doesn't get discussed much. Maybe people don't want to sound crazy, or maybe this doesn't happen to them when they write, but there is definitely a sense of stepping off the map of the known world when writing fiction. Part bard, part shaman, a storyteller crosses into another world and brings back tales of heroism, love, revenge, redemption, healing, grief, and so many other things that are universal parts of the human experience. The part of the storyteller that enables them to cross over, to create, may be deep within the brain or the soul or that indecipherable concept we call heart. Wherever it is, it's just as real as the fingers that fly across the keyboard. As real as the feet that carry you through a dance. Telling a story is an act of raising energy just as surely as dancing or chanting or singing or any of the other numerous ways magic is raised. Energy and magic are chaotic things. Chaos doesn’t let you color inside the lines, or stick to an outline.

I realize this goes against the conventional wisdom. If extensive outlining and filling out character worksheets and meeting a daily word count quota is what works for you then by all means - carry on. Every writer is different, just as every story is different. I just thought I would present another side of things. Order is important, control of the story and the characters is important, but maybe at least during that first draft a little chaos is important too.

Feel free to berate me in the comments for being unprofessional and even a bit daft. ;)


Sara-Jayne Townsend said...

I think it's all about finding out what works for you as a writer. We all work differently. If you find that too much plotting bogs you down and stifles your creativity, then it's not for you.

I, on the other hand, am a control freak and organised to the point of being anal. 'Seat of pants' doesn't work for me. I've got far too many unfinished manuscrips, where I got halfway in and then abandoned them because I couldn't work out what happened next. So I know I have to plot. If I don't work out before I start writing what happens in each chapter, I know I'm not going to get to the end of draft 1.

But being a good writer is all about figuring out what works for you!

PamelaTurner said...

Hope you feel better soon!

Plotting and filling out character worksheets, outlining, etc. is essential for me also. If I write by the seat of my pants, and I've done so (esp. during NaNo), I ultimately end up with characters with unrealistic motivations and meandering plots. Yes, it takes a while to do all the essential research, but by then, I have a more cohesive knowledge (hopefully) of my story.

That said, doing the character worksheets also allows me to become better acquainted with my characters. This helps me understand their motivations.

Being a plotter doesn't mean one can't leave room for improvisation. I don't know how many times my characters have surprised me (in a good way).

I have friends who are pantsters. It's all good. :-)

Sonya Clark said...

I wish I could be more organized but it never works. Can't stick to an outline and I have to write characters to get to know them. I always have this feeling of "er, I'm doing it wrong" but so far I haven't been able to change.

All of the outlining and worksheets seems so much more professional than what I do. I guess as long as I'm getting a book I'm happy with out of my un-process, then I guess it's okay. ;)