A Planner, A Pantser, or a Little of Both?

by Rick Perry

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Posted by rdperry57
When beginning a novel, a writer must decide on his or her own individual level of planning. Some begin their works with elaborate plans and outlines developed well in advance. Others begin with a single idea and plunge ahead never knowing where they might end up. Whether you see yourself as a planner or a pantser, or a combination, all writers share the thrill of getting those words down on paper. So which are you a Planner, Pantser, or a little of both?

Until I wrote my first novel, The What If Project, I would have probably considered myself a Planner. Most of the writing I had done previously had always been preceded by lots of planning, multiple outlines, and detailed notes. Every short story I had ever penned was finished in my mind before I had even started writing the first words. I always knew the ending from the very beginning. After all, I was an English teacher. You’re supposed to start with an outline, right?

As for the Pantsers out there, I confess that the idea of starting without a firm plan and simply flying by the seat of my pants truly scared me. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off without my story meandering all over the place and fizzling out. I decided to take the advice of one of my favorite writers, Stephen King. In his book On Writing, he says “I want to put a group of characters in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free … to watch what happens and then write it down.” I love that! And he’s a pretty successful writer, so I’ve been trying to plan less and fly more.

For my first attempt at writing a novel, I began with a very brief outline that included only two characters and a vague notion of what they were doing and I started typing. Amazingly, it worked! As my characters wandered around, they bumped into several other interesting people and soon I found my novel populated by a wide variety of characters who miraculously appeared just as they were needed. One of these new folks became very important to the story and even supplied my ending, the one I had not expected myself.

Two novels later, I still find myself needing a plan before I begin, but I am learning to start with less detailed plans that allow my characters room to grow and occasionally drift off on their own. And I have to admit, they do find themselves in some interesting and surprising places!

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