Today I thought I’d contribute my two-cents worth regarding the eternal debate…pantser vs. plotter.
It’s really not a debate as much a personal preference. Do you outline your plot (plotter) prior to sitting down and writing a manuscript, or do you tend to fly by the seat of your pants (pantser) as you write? In case you don’t already know, there is no right answer. Both methods are viable and used by multitudes of writers. Pantsers tend to believe that outlining stifles their creativity, preferring to have their story emerge organically as they write. Plotters, on the other hand, see their method as allowing them to map out intricate story elements and avoid unnecessary re-writes or revisions. The amount of detail in these outlines range from the very basic on a single piece of paper, to the highly complex that encompasses an entire notebook by itself.
Me…I’ve always been a plotter. Writing mystery/suspense novels, I find it necessary to use this tool to ensure clues are dropped and time related events are coordinated properly. But as it turns out there’s another reason. Let me illustrate it for you.
Anybody who’s been around construction, or undertaken a home project or two, recognizes the term plum line. It's a piece of string, coated with colored chalk, and when you roll it out and snap it against whatever you're working on it imprints the chalk on the surface. This provides you with a visible reference point to ensure you either remain level, or lay things out in a straight line. And when your finished, the chalk is easily wiped away, leaving no trace of its assistance.
Although I outline and plot events in my chapters very carefully, I still allow room for it to breath and grow. When I'm writing I make adjustments to incorporate idea’s I may not have previously considered, because it makes sense at the time and it moves the story in the direction I want to go. But sometimes a small change early on can turn into a major deviation when the project is completed. Soon-to-be published author Rosslyn Elliott just recently posted a description of a similar process on her blog, Inkhorn Blue. Without a plum line to keep you centered, to maintain a point of reference, a writer can easily drift away from their core premise. The result could end in disappointment.
When I completed the final chapter of my last book, something felt off. I couldn't really pin-point what it was, but I had this unfulfilled sensation. I hadn’t referred back to my outline while writing the last third of the book (a mistake) so I decided to go back to it in case I missed something. What I discovered was a minor change I had added early on that snowballed until the way the book ended was thematically different than what I’d outlined. I had drifted off the plum line my outline was supposed to be guiding me with. I made the necessary adjustments and my happy face was back.
What about you? How do you tell when the flow of your story is veering away from your plum line?