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Plot by the Seat of Your Pants

By Ane Mulligan

There have been copious emails written on the loop regarding Plotter vs Pantster. One method works great for some and is a failure for others.

THAT WAYSeat of the Pants (SOTP) writers can’t plot to save their lives. If the word is even uttered within fifty yards their muse takes a vacation. Plotting is their personal hades. So they sit down and just … begin! They learn their characters as they write. They might be headed for New Hampshire, but they’ll visit Niagara Falls and Virginia Beach before getting there. Most, except for the seasoned multi-published author, will face a lot of rewriting after they discover who their Main Character (MC) is and what s/he wants-and the fact she hates the beach.

PLOTTER Then there are the die-hard plotters, who detail every chapter before they write a word. They know where they’re going and how to get there. They know the entire route before they type a single word. They plot the cities they’ll visit, the gas stops and coffee breaks. They can go from Point Loma on the West Coast to New York City without any mishaps. Within each chapter, they allow for unexpected creativity, but they hold true to their plot map.

TWO WAYS Now, those who know me well will tell you I’m somewhere in the middle-or off the deep end, depending what day it is. But that’s another blog post.

I begin with a “what if” and quickly develop an idea of who my MC will be. Being very visual, I then choose a picture of her (or him) from a folder I keep with photos cut from magazines. Warning: don’t ever leave me unattended with your latest issue.

Once I have my photos, I interview my characters. This can take a couple of days to a week for each one. By the time I’m ready to start typing, I’ve written a stream of consciousness backstory for each POV and/or main character. I know their deepest, darkest secret. I know them inside and out. This process is a lot of fun for me. I love discovering idiosyncrasies I can use against them (insert evil laugh). Great conflict comes from these revelations.map teader

Once I know my characters well, I make a “map” of the points of interest I need to “visit” on the journey-or a plot outline. I may have twelve or fifteen scenes plotted, but it’s not a detailed one. I’ve learned my characters will almost always highjack my story, going where they want. But if I don’t have that basic plot outline, I’ll stall. And car trouble on a cross-country trip is the pits.

So that’s how I do it. Maybe I’m a POTP writer … Pocket of the Pants. I write that plot outline (my map) and fold it up in my pocket to refer to if I get lost. Works for me!

Ane Mulligan OctPresident of the award-winning literary site, Novel Rocket, Ane Mulligan is a multi-published playwright and humor columnist for ACFW Journal, as well as being a three-time finalist in the Genesis contest. Her debut book, Chapel Springs Revival, releases in 2014.

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One Response to Plot by the Seat of Your Pants

  1. Ron Estrada says:

    We have to play to our strengths, Ane. Some need that structure to allow them to be creative. Others see the structure as a hinderince and need to just let the words flow. After four novels, I decided that pansting wasn’t working for me. All that re-writing! I need to build the story from the inside out. Others are good at writing a block of clay and sculpting the story out of it. But I believe every novelists needs to have a firm grasp of the proven structures that make a story work.