Planning vs. Pantsing

Sometimes I think it would be so nice to be able to write a coherent outline before writing the story – you know, actually know ahead of time when things were supposed to happen, plan out the timing of events before they happen, and have an idea of how the ending will go.

But it never seems to work like that. Just because the road map exists doesn’t mean that you always make the right turn – or that the street even exists when you get there. I’ve had that happen in real life before. (Ok, it was a lake, not a road, and the cows drank it after completely confusing our trail, but the point stands.) Or else traffic is going one way, and before you know it you’re stuck in the wrong turn lane and have to take three left turns to figure out where on earth you were supposed to be going.

The scenic route has a certain charm however. There’s a kind of freedom in setting out with no idea where you’ll end up. There’s also the risk of ending up in another country or starvation, but hey, you’re only lost if you had somewhere to be.

In writing, I have never been able to plan ahead of time where a story will go. There may be a few scenes that I kow I want to hit, but half the time by the time I get there they don’t fit anymore. The characters take over, gaining a life of their own as their backstories and motivations develop. Even when I have a complete draft down, the new draft starts with a new blank peice of paper. The old draft is like the topo map, and my job is to use the new draft to plot the best course. Sometimes one that is completely different from the last one. New ideas spark new scenes, a throwaway character gets mentioned again and becomes important to the plot. Backstories change as the world develops.

And the writer goes insane. But hey, it’s a nice kind of insanity.



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