Donna Everhart

I Say It’s Both

There’s this online place I visit, sometimes once a day, sometimes more – which is likely too much for my own writing good.  This online place is agent Janet Reid‘s blog.  I found her several years ago when I “entered” my serious writing stage.  Sometime back in 2011, I think.  She recently was awarded a very nice spot as one of the top 101 blogs for writers by Writers Digest.  Her blog is simply one of the best places for writers of all levels to visit.  Many of you out here already know this, but for those who don’t, or haven’t stumbled across her site yet, I say that because 1)she’s a top notch literary agent, 2)she tells it like it is, 3)with humor 4)and a dash of snark, and 5)she’s an overall industry expert.  (As to #5, this is my opinion and I know many others who feel the same way.)

Anyway, recently on one of her posts, folks started commenting, and like we tend to do, off topic it went.  We try to be good, and stay relatively in the same stratosphere of what she was posting about, but sometimes…meh, not so much.  That particular day there was a comment by one of the writers who said he “writes from the hip.”

I never did jump into the fray on this, because the Shark (a.k.a. Janet Reid) who also created Query Shark for anything and everything you ever wanted to know about writing a query, stepped in to remind everyone to stay on topic, keep individual comments to 3 or less, and no more than 100 words.  Often, too often, we get very wordy out there.

So here is where I wanted to add my two cents to that post’s off topic comments.  Like everything else with writing, there really is no right way, and no wrong way.  We each find OUR way and if it works for us, great.   First, because there are some who are now reading my posts who may not know a couple terms I’m going to use, I’ll briefly explain them.

Plotter – one who writes an outline, or synopsis of their book, beginning to end.  Plotters might carefully construct their story chapter by chapter, with the primary scenes/action and even a bit of dialogue or setting in each.  Or some might write a synopsis, knowing essentially what happens at the 50,000 foot level, from beginning to end.  The synopsis could be anywhere from 4-10 pages.

Pantster – likely self-explanatory, but for clarity, this is a writer who writes “by the seat of their pants.”  They don’t know from point A to point B what is going to happen.  They figure it out as they go along.  They sit and they write, feeling their way through as to what fits, or not.

Now that I’ve set all this up, what I wanted to say in the discussion/comments the other day is…I think we really do both.  In other words, it’s a mish-mash using both styles or techniques.  For instance, when I wrote DIXIE DUPREE, I said I used the pantster style.  I did it with book two as well.  BUT.  Although I didn’t have my beginning, middle, ending nailed down in either, I did plot them to a degree, along the way.  In other words, I had to stop writing and plan/figure out where the story needed to go.  I would decide, okay, Chapter X and Y needs to have this happen, and then I would write.

My latest WIP, THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET is plotted.  I wrote a synopsis for it, which is about 4 to 5 pages detailing major events, and (yay!) I’ve stuck to it for the entire book.  But here’s the thing, despite the synopsis, there is a massive amount of writing and work to turn those 4-5 pages into a full blown story.  I know what I want to happen, but there is all that missing detail.

I was talking about the sandwich method of feedback on JR’s blog in another post, and in some ways, working with an outline brings to mind a sandwich method too.  You’ve got the bread, but nothing in between.  You still need meat, cheese, and whatever else in order to have a sandwich.  Otherwise, all you have is…two slices of bread. Even with my handy dandy synopsis, I knew nothing about how I wanted my main character to get out of a predicament, or how she would meet various characters.  Hey, some of those characters who showed up weren’t even in the outline.  Hmmm, that seems a bit pantster’ish to  me.

Writing a book is blending a bit of both pantster and plotter techniques, at least that’s my take on it. 

What’s yours?

21 thoughts on “I Say It’s Both”

  1. My first two m/s were seat of pants, and they were a blast. My current is a Hybrid…a combo of gas and red wine…errh anyway, it started out as seat of pants until I had discovered the two main characters. Then one got into some trouble, at that point I charted out the remainder of the story. So it was Panster / plotter combo. Cheers Hank, see you around the reef!

    1. That’s what I thought about my first two…(seat of the pants) and then when I thought about it, I was like hmmmm. I think I did a little of both, mainly pantster with DD though. Bottom line? It really doesn’t matter as long as we get to THE END. *I’ll be there!

  2. “It really doesn’t matter as long as we get to THE END.” You are absolutely right, Donna! I think that as a Pantster, I must have a bit of a combo between the two techniques, or I’d have a hot mess on my hands instead…LOL. <3 <3 <3

  3. I will agree that it takes some of each part for most people. If you put each concept at opposite ends of a line it will turn into a bell curve. Most everyone will use both ends.

    In part it is because you don’t really write a plot, you build it. You build it through the course of writing a book. You start with a general outline. A general outline is actually the boundary limits of the path you wish you book to go down. It settles down as you get down the road.

    Another questionable thing I have heard is of people who claim they write their query first. It is very important that you are mindful of your query while writing but things change. When you get to that flat spot in chapter 14 you might be able to restart the flow by changing page 2. Page 2, however was a large part of the query you wrote. I would rather take the easy road and change the query some so the book can hold its pacing throughout.

    1. I’ve read that too. Recently, I think someone mentioned it at The Reef – and it’s been discussed there a few times at any rate. You know, I’ve decided the query has got to be the hardest bit of writing any writer has to do – possibly even harder than a book. I wonder how many have written the query first (maybe it’s really a very tiny synopsis?) and then changed it completely once the book was done.

  4. You are so right; I work both ways myself. I can’t not-write, so even at the early stage I still find myself on the WIP, I put in scenes here and there, many of which I know will be negated along the way by research, and others won’t end up fitting as the whole is tailored. There are panster aspects to this, but then the research side, for historical fiction, is puzzle working – CAN I use this tidbit? Where? Should I cut out that tidbit? Or move it?

    The puzzle part of writing is as intriguing as sitting down and letting a character’s voice flow through you. I love research. It’s the discipline of not going too far down the rabbit hole on a tangent, or not chasing too *many* tantalizing details that is the trick!

    1. I love research – especially when it adds depth to the story, or provides me with a certain amount of detail which otherwise would have been missing. For the current WIP, there is a hurricane (true event) that sets off the story. The family tries to survive as long as they can without the resources of fresh water (have to boil) and with all their food gone they resort to hunting, scavenging and making do with what little they can buy, etc. I researched edible plants, and being sickened (there is a death) by drinking tainted water. The oddest thing happened during the research. I was stuck at one point trying to figure out how to get them off out of the mountains, to an area where they could have a chance to support themselves (as traveling singers/musicians) In my research, I’d read that many of the bridges had been washed out. I contacted a local and found out that was only the northbound side for the area they were in. HA! They were heading south. I love it when problems get solved like that!

  5. The first serious novel I wrote was over 300,000 words, and it was basically “pantsed.” I had the idea, and I spent a lot of time in my head worldbuilding and thinking about the characters. When it came to writing it, I wrote the first few chapters, and then skipped ahead to the next part of the story that I had in my head, wrote through to the end, world and character building on the way, drawing maps for myself as I went. I then went back and filled in the missing chapters. Looking back, it was a fun way to write, and in fact, I’m thinking of revisiting this novel and editing it into shape one day. It has a lot of potential.

    I have tried meticulous plotting, but I gave up because I would end up writing the novel when I’m supposed to be outlining! I guess at minimum I like to have a strong concept, a general idea where it’s going, and an idea of the ending. If more comes to mind, that’s okay.

    1. Holy Cow, Colin! 300K? That’s one heck of a book! Thinking about how big that stack of paper would be…at least a foot in thickness, don’t you think? I can see how that would happen. Well, this is a complete pantser style comment cause as I’m thinking about your 300,000 word tome, I’m thinking…TRILOGY! You’d have your three books written right there! 100K and add on to them to whatever you need for…what is it? Sci-Fi? Fantasy? If something other than that (I KNOW you didn’t go and write a 300K mystery – did you?) with some heavy editing, Books 1, 2, and 3 in a mystery?
      Wow, and I just turned the corner on 100K (got about 104K at the moment) and I’m feeling like it’s a monster!
      What you did is what I think Julie called chunk writing. Writing the bits and pieces you know and then stitching them together. Very cool.

      1. I wrote it long-hand too. Pen and paper. Then typed it all up. What genre? Sci-fi-ish sort of historical-ish… I’m not really sure. If I ever get it into a publishable form, I’ll query Janet first. I’m fairly certain it’s not something she would usually rep, but she could at least tell me the genre in her rejection. 😉

      2. Ha! She could – and would. She might even say you were in “Delusionville.” Hey, it seems nicer than Carkoon, although I’ve only been here a couple days.

  6. Well, I’m going to play the role of Counterpoint.

    There are exceptions to every rule of course, but aspiring writers shouldn’t worry about the exceptions. They should master the skill first, then they can become an exception. And I think for most of the aspiring writers out there, “pantser” equates to lazy. As in, it’s a lot more fun to just get into freewriting, so I’ll go the pantser route. My guess is that’s a RARE manuscript that gets published.

    So I’d advocate for Plotters. Don’t read that to mean a person has to have every beat figured out, every detail of the inciting incident, the dark night of the soul and a meticulous ending and then stick to it. That would have close to a zero success rate as well.
    You can plot with tremendous flexibility. Plot, write, plot some more, write some more. Repeat.

    But every time an aspiring writer quotes E.L. Doctorow (“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”) I wanna throw water on ’em and yell “Wake Up, you’re not E.L. Doctorow yet!”

    But that’s just me. I don’t worry about those people because I’ll soon hear them whining about form rejections, and I have an answer for that question.

  7. Oooh, I love counter point.

    However, hmmm, well. “My guess is that’s a RARE manuscript that gets published.”

    So, we can call THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE rare then? Truth – very first book ever written. Truth – pantster style. (I truly didn’t know what I was doing – obviously – since it had a fatal flaw on the initial go round to freelance editor)

    Hello? Are you on the floor?

    Having said that, I loved laying out the synopsis for BITTERSWEET. I refer to it all the time. Something about knowing, hey, doofus, you wanted this to happen next, helps. It really does. (I’m calling myself doofus, btw. Not you. Never you. You = nut) 🙂

    1. Oh, I go by Doofus almost as much as Nut, hence I would’ve answered either way.

      So you’re rare, huh? No surprise to learn that. Or that I’m wrong, even less of a surprise there. And yes … I was on the floor. Okay, still am. Just wow. First one. Pantser. I’ll like you again tomorrow, but I really hate you for the next 24 hours. Sorry, I wish I was a different person, but like Popeye, I yam what I yam.

      1. Not really rare, I just like to tell you that. 🙂 But – I had a wonderful editor! I really did. If it weren’t for her, the book wouldn’t be where it is, nor would I. I’m sad she no longer works as a freelancer. Matter of fact, just found out today, her site? Kaput. Zip. Gone. It sort of made me sad.

        Hey. I’m feeling the glare of hate. Lay off, would you? Oh, tomorrow? Okay.

  8. I’m a plotter and a pantster but right now my WIP in churning in a blender. What to do?
    I’ve stepped back (thank you for your feedback, a while back) and am reassessing ingredients and how to best to serve them.
    Love this post BTW.

    1. I wondered how you were coming along. I’ve hopped over to your site a few times and noticed the post was old – which = BUSY writing and other things. Hey, let’s hope you didn’t have an epiphany at page 320 like I did. One that, when I go back and edit, will change the dynamic of my main character with her parents. I hope I can pull it off and make it not look like something smacked me upside the head so late.


  9. Hi Donna, I mention Janet’s blog all the time back in my little space. She is indeed the Queen Of The Known Universe (QOTKU) when it comes to publishing.

    As for style, I did write my synopsis first for my WIP (and at your suggestion). That made for faster first draft I have ever written. However, I did not stick to the synopsis. It just served as a spring board to focus me. I am mostly a pantster myself although I think of it as being a “discovery” writer. But that is probably why I am so slow. I approach writing as I would restoring and painting a wall in an old house. It is a layered process where first draft is like preparing an old dinghy wall for paint, fixing the holes, flattening out the flaws, cleaning up or adding base boards. Then the first few revisions are the primer. Then you have the first coat of paint, putting on new coats until the room (novel) shines like a brand new penny. Great stuff, Donna and still so excited for you.

    1. “As for style, I did write my synopsis first for my WIP (and at your suggestion). That made for faster first draft I have ever written.” (wish I could say the same for moi. On the other hand, I’m hoping my habit of nitpicking along will pay off when it comes to editing.)

      I have to say I love “discovery” writer MUCH more than pantster, and what a great analogy, right? It’s very true, too. The prep work before we paint, and add all those other final touches.
      Thank you so much Elise, for you support! XO

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