Begin at the Beginning – a Plotter Tries Being a Pantser

Which came first – the chicken or the egg? The beginning or the end?  When you write a story, do you start by knowing the characters and the opening, and then write to see where it takes you? (Option 1, writing by the seat of your pants, or Pantser)  Or do you start with the characters, the situation and the ending, and write to get there? (Option 2, plotting the story in varying degrees, or Plotter)  For the first time, I’m experimenting with Option 1, being a Pantser.

Well, not exactly the first time.

My mind usually percolates a situation, character and end, and I build the plot and the character together until they work.  What-ifs can show up – I definitely don’t outline everything – but I’m still writing to meet the ending I’ve envisioned.  It just works best for me.

For NaNoWriMo one year, I did try writing to see where the story would go.  I found I didn’t have enough structure to keep the story going, even in that month of turn-the-internal-editor-off-and-just-write.  My brain wanted to explode, not having enough time to think of what a character would do, how she would feel, how someone else would react.  I ended up with a  theme I may use someday, but otherwise my story was a total mucky mess.  Anyway, I scurried back to where I feel safe (and clean):  knowing the ending first.

But tonight, I’m sitting at my computer, resorting to being a Pantser again.  I have a short story due on Tuesday, and any idea that’s danced around in my mind just hasn’t clicked with me.  It’s now Thursday, and I need time to write, revise, let it sit, and revise again.  AND I have no way to work on it Saturday or Sunday.  Time to start looking for short-cuts.

I found the best short-cut in my WIP.  I know those characters, so why don’t I take one of them, throw them into a situation that might even help with backstory, and see what happens?  So here I am.  Amanda, my American in Ireland, will find herself with the temptation of reading her teenage daughter’s diary.  I know her well enough to know she’s torn – reluctant to invade Kelsey’s privacy, but worried enough to do it anyway.

What I don’t know is what will happen after she reads it.  Will she ‘fess up? Will she keep it to herself? I’m not even sure if Kelsey will find out, although I suspect so.  Right now, I’m going to write and see just what Kelsey puts in her diary.  I have to know what Amanda’s going to react to, after all.  Next week, I’ll let you know what happened after.

What about you?  If you’re a Plotter, have you ever written a story as a Pantser?  If you’re a Pantser, have you ever done a stint as a Plotter?  How did it turn out?

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5 Responses to Begin at the Beginning – a Plotter Tries Being a Pantser

  1. T.F.Walsh says:

    I’m a plotter… being a pantser freaks me out – I have to know a basic skeleton of what’s coming along with a general idea of the type of character they… I have tried the pantser way and ended up half way through a book stuck…I haven’t gone back to that book – maybe one day:)

  2. Julia Indigo says:

    Oooh, I *love* your idea for a short story! In fact, I have been wondering how to get into that. I have a plethora of characters in my WIP that I could flesh out in this fashion. Fun!

    I’m a bit of a pantser – I love it when a twist comes out of my fingers and on to the page – but when fleshing out a character’s life, I do outline the significant events. I’m also resigned to tossing stuff out when it comes time to edit.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Hi, Julia. Nice to meet you!
    This is the first time I’ve pulled a novel character out for a short story, but I have a friend who writes vignettes and short stories for her characters before she even starts a novel – it really lets her get to know them. I do it the hard way, by writing a whole lot of chapters that need revising later!

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