A few months ago at a hostel in Malaysia, I got an idea for a fan fiction story. A longer story with action, adventure and a hint of mystery, starring the characters I had been writing about for a while now.
Because the idea was for a longer story (more than 20,000 words) than the ones that I’ve previously written (around 5,000), I decided it was time to write down a basic plot line following the hero’s journey.
Earlier this year, I read a book from Beth Ravis called Paper Hearts that goes through the basics of writing a book. There, Ravis shows her method for plotting called ‘chart structure’ that has four acts, all divided into four parts. As this was the structure I felt comfortable with, I planned my plot line following the chart.
This was a new thing for me as I had never planned this carefully before starting the actual writing process. And I loved writing down the plot – it was fun to know what was going to happen and have a feeling of coherence. This, I thought, was the way to get rid of those plot holes and inconsistencies!
Following the chart method was really almost like writing a very short story, and I really liked the ideas I had. I believed I had a good plot on the way.
The False Cure
When I started writing the story, at first everything went pretty well. I let the words come and wrote them down, writing the first four chapters. However, every night when I was thinking about the text, I realized some small inconsistencies or things that needed to be added in as foreshadowing for future events.
Slowly, as I wrote, the inconsistencies started adding up, it didn’t feel like I was foreshadowing enough –
I mean, did I even know how to write an adventurous mystery?
– and I wondered if I was wasting my time continuing to write the story when it felt like I was just making the editing process more painful with every scene that I wrote.
I realized I needed to plan way better than the chart structure. A better, more detailed plot line, not only for the main plot line but for the side plots, as well. It should and it would help me out, both in writing and editing the story.
So I opened a new Word-file, made a chart with four columns (one for the different acts according to the chart structure and three for the different plot lines) and started writing out the scenes more carefully, tracking the plot lines side by side.
It felt like I was doing the right thing. I was ensuring I was getting to know my story and my characters. Scene by scene, I was minimizing my work load in the editing part of writing.
I deleted the fourth chapter and started writing it from scratch. I edited a big part of the first chapter and was still unsure if it was right. I added some more foreshadowing to the second chapter and wondered if the third chapter was needed at all because maybe there wasn’t enough happening?
While thinking of all these things, what I didn’t realize at first was that I wasn’t writing the story anymore.
I was so focused on thinking about what was right or wrong with the first four chapters and how could I make everything as right as possible in the future, that I totally left the story file stand alone on my desktop. I didn’t touch it, I simply couldn’t, as long as I didn’t have a proper full outline for all my plots.
And I realized that somehow, all that plotting and planning took out all the fun of writing the actual story.
My Two Sides
But why? Isn’t planning and plotting supposed to be the way to a more coherent, intriguing story? Like the writer of a murder mystery writer who knows from the beginning who the murderer is and can therefore create false trails for the reader to follow? Why couldn’t I do it?
The weird thing is, when it comes to writing, I’ve always considered myself as a plantser. I write down a loose idea or a beginning of a plot line that might have an ending and then I start writing. I don’t put down too much time to plan the characters or the world, but let them build themselves while I write.
Then again, when it comes to life outside of writing, I’ve always been a planner. If you’ve read more of my blog posts, you know that I enjoy being organized, managing my time and goals. I love writing lists, having things tidy and structured according to the alphabet or a numerical value.
I thought it would be easy to implement my organizational skills to my writing – but the truth has proven to be almost the opposite.
At first, I was somewhat disappointed in myself because it felt like what I had thought was a definite step on the development path for me as a writer turned out to be a total bust.
But then, as some quotes happened to change my perspective some weeks ago, a passage in a book helped me see my plantsing in a better light.
What book, you may ask, by whom?
Well, no other than On Writing by Stephen King.
The Return of the Plantser
According to my quick analysis, Stephen King is somewhere in between a pantser and plantser. His stories start with an idea of what if… and from there, after some thinking, he starts writing. He lets the characters do their thing and the story tells itself. King, as a writer, is only there to put pen to paper, like an archeologist is there to uncover a fossil.
This passage in the book (pp. 163-165) woke me up from my decision to become a plotter and made me think of the plantser-plotter dilemma from a different perspective.
If all this time I had had fun writing without really knowing what was going to happen, why was I taking that fun away from myself? And if I have been writing good stories without plotting everything down to a detail, why change?
And after thinking about King’s words for a day or two, I decided to let go of plotting and resume to my plantsing. Some people are planners, some people are not – and the key is to know what kind of writer you are and play your strengths.
I believe I am a hard core plantser.
So, in the future, a basic plot line will do or I’ll only come up with the starting scene and let the story take me anywhere from there. Yes, it might lead to more work on the editing side, at least at first. But maybe I will be learning while I’m writing and for every new draft there will be fewer inconsistencies and enough foreshadowing?
It is, at least, something to aim for.