Step two in my writing process is plotting. When it comes to plotting, there are two kinds of writers: “plotters” and “pantsers.”
Plotters write some kind of outline or maybe a synopsis or character sketches. Some plot with index cards, filling out one card for each scene.
Pantsers write “by the seat of their pants,” with little plotting. They have an idea where the story is going, but they don’t write down a sequence of scenes that will happen in the story. For them, the story seems to take on a life of itself. Sarah Ettritch blogged about the advantages of being an “organic writer.”
There is no right or wrong way. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages.
Plotting allows you to catch plot holes before you write yourself into a corner. You can foreshadow important events that you know are coming and write with the ending in mind.
Writing by the seat of your pants allows you to keep your writing fresh and spontaneous because you’re not confined by a planned-out structure.
Personally, I’m somewhere between a plotter and a pantser, but more on the plotting side of the continuum. When I start writing, I don’t know every little detail of every scene, but I know my important plot points and some of the scenes that will happen along the way. I have an ending in mind, and I have a more detailed plan for the first few chapters. I also do character sketches that often include facts that will never make it into the story. For Second Nature, I wrote a twenty-page concept of my shape-shifters, their biology, religion, language, and culture.
In the past, I have plotted more intensely – when I wrote Backwards to Oregon, I had the sequence of scenes all worked out. I don’t do that anymore. But I need an overall structure before I can start writing. If I know where I’m going, I’m more productive. I never had writer’s block.
But I’m certainly not married to my outline. I get to know the characters as I write, so I’ll often adjust the outline, add new scenes, change others.
Some people wonder whether there’s a connection between plotting style and hemispheric dominance.
When I’m using the terms “right-brained” and “left-brained,” keep in mind that we, of course, all have and use both sides of the brain. None of us is totally right-brained or totally left-brained, but most of us lean one way or the other.
Left-brained people tend to be logical. They are detail-oriented and work in a linear fashion. It’s easy to imagine that most left-brained people are plotters.
Right-brained people depend more on feelings and imagination. They see the big picture and might not work linearly. Most right-brained people might be pantsers.
Here’s a link to a program that assesses your cognitive style (left-brained vs. right-brained, auditory vs. visual). Instead of your name, enter “50” so that you get fifty questions instead of twenty. It increases the validity of your results. My results look like this:
Or take a hemispheric dominance test.
Let me know how your cognitive style corresponds with your plotting style.