In her books, Deb Erika has been known to wear the pants

Erika MarksOnce again, it’s confession time at the Ball! This week’s tell-all subject (as you now know from Deb Joanne’s post yesterday) is plotting. Specifically: Plotter or Pantser?

Now I’ll admit—only within the last few years have I come to know of this “pantser” term. I had no idea—really!—that there was such a category. When I realized there were other writers out there like myself—and that we had a term for our method (or madness, you be the judge), I was relieved. But here’s the thing: When it comes to picking a side, I can’t.

I’m kind of, sort of, well…both.

Hear me out:

At the beginning of a novel, I’m all pants. I sit down at my computer with no notes and let it fly. And it does, oh, it soars, baby! We reach cruising altitude and it’s magic. Turbulence free. Seat belts are off and the Bloody Mary Mix is flowing.

And then, somewhere around page 100, one of the engines goes out, the wing snaps off and I’m in a nosedive.

What do I do then?

You guessed it: I pull a Diana Prince and spin myself from bespectacled Pantser to lasso-wielding Plotter.

And just in the nick of time, crisis is averted and I regain control of my aircraft.

Now here’s where I have to explain yet again: When I say I become a plotter, it isn’t that I begin to construct a formal outline, but rather I build out thumbnail sketches of the next two to three chapters. What do I mean by thumbnail sketches?

First, I’ll simply write out a chapters worth of scenes, in sequence, in single sentences.

Here’s a made-up example:

Chapter 5

-Loni arrives at the train station.

-Joshua is eating in the café and sees her.

-Loni and Joshua connect on the platform. He sees she is holding a copy of his book.

Really basic stuff.

Then I’ll go back in and flesh out those sentences to thumbnails, including important plotting elements and snippets of dialogue—most likely the conversations where the tension in the scene will peak. (Because I like my instant gratification!)

Chapter 5

-Loni arrives at the train station.

Reveal memory of first train trip with her father. Show how she’s nervous.

-Joshua is eating in the café and sees her.

He leaves letter behind by mistake. Spills something on his tie so it can be there for her to brush off in next scene.

-Loni and Joshua connect on the platform. He sees she is holding a copy of his book.

Joshua to Loni: “You told me you’d sooner have a root canal than read my books.”

“I never said that.”

“You absolutely did. That night at Monica’s party. You said it with such a straight face I kept waiting for you to break into laughter but you never did. I was crushed.”

This will usually be enough “outline” to get me back on track, to see far enough ahead in my plotting to know where my novel is headed and to make sure my road map makes sense. (Or at least as much sense as it can in a first draft.)

So there you have it, dear friends. It would seem I’m a true Gemini, flip-flopping back and forth between plotter and pantser.

No, wait. That’s not good enough. I know it’s still early in the week, but what the heck! I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I’m a little bit pantser, I’m a little bit plotter. So ladies and gentleman, I think that makes me…yes, you guessed it:


* * * *

What about you all? Do you favor one or the other in your writing? Do you think a writer can be both? Or have you an idea for yet ANOTHER category? More importantly, is there a transportation analogy I’ve left out of this post??

Bring it, friends. Bring it!

24 Replies to “In her books, Deb Erika has been known to wear the pants”

  1. LOL! Sounds like you’ve found the perfect compromise. 🙂

    As for a transportation analogy … does a Bungee Cord count as “transportation”? Because that’s kind of how I write. 😉

    1. How could I forget the Bungee?? Of course that counts! And I love that that is YOUR writing analogy…just makes me that much more excited for Friday’s post, Linda dear…;)

      1. Oh, don’t get too excited. The way my brain is working this week, I’ll be lucky if I remember what a plot is. *grin*

  2. This girl with no creative brain has no choice but to be a planner through and through. I think that is why I am drawn to writing non-fiction over fiction. I just cannot dream, bungee, and I do it all without pants.

    1. Hi Missy! It’s funny, isn’t it, how we don’t really think about our writing style until we’ve been doing it for a while and then we think: Oh, hey! So THAT’S how I do it? Cool. 😉

      But we’re all friends here, dear. Pants on or off 😉

    2. Creativity is such a personal thing, Missy. I bet you’re plenty creative, just maybe in different ways. Non-fiction requires its own style of creativity, otherwise it would read like a phone book. 😀

    3. Oh, Missy, you are no less creative because you build your framework first, and then fill in the details. It’s just a matter of style. 🙂

  3. Great minds like alike. Your response reminds me of the post I wrote a few weeks back, calling myself a “plotser” or a “pantplot.” I think I like plantser better. Ha ha. I like the method to your madness. Just enough structure to keep you in track, and enough organic flow to keep your characters real!

    1. Panplot! That’s another keeper! And I remember that great post of yours, Melissa! I like your point about something being organic–I think that’s what we struggle with as writers–how to balance that need for structure and the need for spontaneity to keep us feeling creative.

      This is a topic to be continued, right? 😉

  4. This is hilarious because I’m almost an exact mirror image of you! I plan and plot then when I write I don’t look at the outline until about page 100 then I feel like I need a reminder so I look back at my notes!! Can you imagine if we ever collaborated? It would either be perfect because one of us would always know what was going on or pure hell because we’d drive each other crazy plotting or pantsing at the most inopportune times!

    1. Ha!! Oh, I can just imagine it! And seriously, Julia, it makes me admire people who co-write novels even more–how challenging that must be! But maybe not if one’s a plotter and the other a pantser?

      Hmm…I may have to investigate this and get back to everyone…

  5. I was a *total* pantster until I discovered all the great writers’ blogs,
    such as this one, and the art-of-writing books. By the time I did my second year of
    NaNo I called myself “a pantster with notes”! But I much prefer your
    “plantster” term, Erika, and think I’ll adopt it for myself!

    PS~ This comes from another mercurial Gemini!;)

    1. Hi Lynn! I’m so glad you came to visit! (And always glad to chat with a fellow Gemini 😉 )

      I have always thought doing NaNo must require such a level of organization that I couldn’t possibly manage–did you find it helped your writing process to be under that kind of deadline? Or do you find you’re more of a pantser when you’re writing outside of the NaNo projects?

  6. Erika, sorry so late in responding–dh came in with some minor
    injuries from yardwork (yikes, blood! lol…we doctored him up
    and he’s fine)then I got distracted by Pinterest later when I couldn’t
    sleep…TMI? But here I am…

    Yep, I was afraid of doing NaNo for a few years after I found out
    about it, BECAUSE of being a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer for
    decades. I did nonfiction that way, too! Sometimes I think a deadline
    helpful, other times, nah! I just wing it!…geez, ya think I’m really
    a… Gemini??

  7. I do all my plotting in my head, like little movies. If I can’t remember them, then I guess they’re not good enough to make the cut. I never take notes until revision time.

    1. No notes?! Whoa! Okay, we need to come up with a new term for you, my dear. Something hardcore. Pantser seems, well, puny. I’m on it. I’ll report back after I consult some chocolate on the matter. (Chocolate always seems to have the right answers, I swear it does…)

  8. Erika, I feel like I am you but in reverse. Big outline plans at first, then just take off and go with where the wind takes me. But it’s more like a constant back and forth. Write, then outline, then write, then outline, write then put sticky notes all over my desk with reminders — “meet friend date!” “big fight!” — helpful notes like that.

    Maybe that makes me a PANTTER?

    Also that video was the highlight of my day.

    1. Oh, Rachel, I’ve been hoping someone would bring up the mighty stickie! Let’s speak no more of it since tomorrow is your post and I wouldn’t want to spoil any goodies.

      Oh, I’m so glad you liked the video! I used to try that move all the time as a kid. (And, okay, maybe I tried it again a few days ago too when I was finding the link. You know, to be thorough. I crashed into the deck door. Oy. I KNOW Lynda Carter could still pull it off today. 😉 )

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