There are two side to this argument, but I've been on both sides of the fence at different times; I've evolved, and now I ride somewhere in the middle of the argument. I like BOTH pantsing and plotting. I know I'm weird
I love this discussion because I, honestly, sit somewhere in the middle of the fence. I used to be a total pantser. And then I found a couple of things to be annoying enough to do a little plotting. I don’t go to the extent of most plotters – my whole novel is not planned out when I begin writing it. My outline is minimal, but I do have one.
I also create character cheats to track the full name, look, quirks, car, and anything else unique about each character. I got really sick of scrolling back through my whole word document to remember what the best friend’s eye color was. Now I have the out line in a separate document, the character cheat sheet in a second, and the actual manuscript in a third. (If I’m going to get technical I also use Scrivener now for my first draft so I have all three in one document, separate areas, and labeled appropriately.)
Being in the middle of this argument has given me a unique viewpoint. I can see the ups and downsides to each.
I enjoy the freedom of pantsing. I’m not limited by my outline. But at the same time having too many possibilities can feel limiting too. With plotting I have the ease of tracked items (like bullet point plot ideas and character sketches) to save time from scrolling through my work. But on the other hand I tend to spend a lot of time on my wimpy outlines and character sheets, that I could be spending on actually writing the book instead.
Regardless of which you prefer, or if you like both like me, here are some tips to use during NaNo for both pantsers and plotters.
- Still do research before starting – or as you go. If you know your MC lives in Minnesota, and you are from Texas, then look up temperatures for times of year, etc. If you plan to write about a culture you’re a little less familiar with, look it up as you go. BUT since NaNo is a fast paced game make sure not to spend too much time researching while writing. You can always fix mistakes with editing.
- Keep track of your plot points as they come to you. Even if you don’t have an outline keep track of what you have already written (instead of planning it all out ahead – just make the list as you go). You can spend an extra five minutes after writing your 1,700 words a day to make bullet points of what’s happened. This will help when you are evaluating your story arc while editing, as well as help with a synopsis eventually.
- Even if you hate plotting I suggest keeping a character cheat sheet as you go. You don’t need to write it out before you start, but add to it as you describe a new character. I tend to be in the middle with this one. I will start one with a few main characters, and then as I add characters I add to the cheat sheet.
- Keep any documents you have (your work, the character sheet, your bullet point list of plot points, etc) open and accessible every time you are writing. Use them. Edit them while you go. They will be helpful.
- Plotters don’t really need to be told how to plot – what works best for them – especially from a non-plotter. So do whatever works best for you and make as detailed of an outline as you need before stating NaNo.
- I do suggest being open to new ideas as you go, though. If something brilliant strikes you, as you go, don’t negate it simply because it wasn’t in your original outline. Be adaptable.
- Have a character cheat sheet. I suggest this one to everyone.
- Keep your outline and your character sheet open every time you write. This is another one I suggest to everyone. For plotters the outline is even more important to keep open. I tend to stray from my outlines if I don’t have the active reminder of what should be coming next. This is why I tend to blend the best of both worlds. But having all documents open is a great way to stay on track with what you’ve plotted.
- If you write faster because you’ve plotted everything before hand then write more each day. Use those two hours you set aside and fill them, even if you go over in word count every day. You may finish your novel before Thanksgiving then!
Are you a pantser or a plotter? What works best for you? What are your tips that work for you (on either side of the argument)?