Pantsing v. Planning

blueprintWhen I was first getting serious about writing, somewhere between the ages of eleven and twenty-one (who can really pin down when they became serious about writing?), I was a definite pantster. I had one project and I flung myself into it with the careless abandon of a finger painting kindergartner. I let the story take me where it would. Characters sprang up out of nowhere. Story lines I never would have imagined branched off and grew. My one book grew into two, then three, and then four, finally fleshing out into a hefty five book series, each book clocking in at between 120- and 130k.

It. Was. Glorious.

And sloppy. And exhausting. And required so many drafts that I eventually stopped counting them after eleven or so. I mean, there’s no shame in taking 10+ years to draft a single project, but it’s hard to move other projects forward as well. And as a writer, I definitely hope to be more than a one-hit wonder.

These days, now that I’m an old lady and I’ve got things like jobs and kids to suck up my time, I tend to plan things out quite a bit more. I typically don’t start writing until I know the full cast, an unholy amount of setting, and at least eighty percent of the entire outline in detail. My books and characters still surprise me sometimes, leaving the path and running whooping and laughing down a flower-bedecked hillside instead. But generally, I know where things are going before I even type Chapter One.

I have sequentially planted my butt firmly on both sides of this fence, but I still can’t tell you which is better, pantsing or planning. (Hint: The better one is whichever one works best for you just then.) But just for the fun of it, let’s break these babies down a bit more.

Pantsing is typically a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants free-for-all where all you start with is an interesting premise and the determination to see it through to its unknown end. Planning is more in the vein of spreadsheets, flowcharts, and index cards; however they get it down, planners like to know what beast they’re working with and how to wrangle it- all before they step in the arena.

So what are the merits and demerits of these two schools of thought? I asked a bunch of my writing buddies on Twitter and Facebook their thoughts on this, and here’s what our think-tank was able to come up with:

  Advantages Disadvantages
Pantsing Room for surprises

Get right to the fun of writing

More organic characters and relationships

Allows for more exploration of a theme or topic without plot restrictions

Requires extra time in editing and cleanup

Wonky flow, pacing, and direction

Chaotic storylines

Bloated first drafts

More prone to ‘getting stuck’ mid-draft

Planning Gives sense of the story’s direction

Enough organization to remember what I’m doing

Less prone to writers block

Cleaner first drafts

Faster first drafts

Allows higher degree of story complexity without getting messy

Requires extra time spent in prep work

Can sap some of the fun and enthusiasm from a project

Sometimes creates rigid situations that serve the plot rather than agree with the character development

These are, of course, generalities. And like most things in life, these two poles rest on either end of a continuum, rather than being either a 1 or a 0. To reflect the murky middle ground, the term “plantster” has started cropping up around the internet as well, to represent those of us who like to hang out in the mix.

continuum

I mentioned earlier that I like to start a project with a mere eighty percent of my plot planned out. Because of this, and quite a few other gaps I leave open at a project’s advent, I don’t really think of myself as a true planner. I’m more of a preparation-leaning plantster. I like to have a really strong structure in place at the start of a project, and most of the major plot points planned out. But I also like to leave myself a little wiggle room for exploration, and an unscripted ending. I like leaving the ending unplanned because it usually takes me up until that point in the story to come up with an ending that a) fits the story naturally and b) isn’t coming at the reader with all the subtle surprise of a regularly scheduled freight train. Because of this, I do tend to have to go back and rework a bit of the earlier story (adding foreshadowing, tweaking storylines that end up being important, dropping the ones that aren’t, etc), but I’m fine with an extra draft or two.

Just so long as it doesn’t end up being closer to twenty drafts.

So whether you plan, pants, or something in between, keep doing what works best for you! The best routines are the ones that work, and don’t let anyone (or any table) tell you otherwise. Happy writing!

(And a special thank you to the dozen or so folks on social media who pitched in to help me articulate all the plusses and minuses of planning and pantsing- you guys are awesome!)

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Designing Graphic Novels Class

ColorHello, internet! Would you believe that the good folks at Pearl Creek Elementary School have once again trusted me to teach a writing class to the impressionable younglings they’ve sworn to instruct and protect?  Because they have!

Two quarters ago, I did a NaNoWriMo group as part of the after school program.  And I’m at it again this quarter, with a class about designing graphic novels.  The idea is to help the kids design their own story, art, and layout style, which they can then spend the summer turning into a full graphic novel.  (Haha, we’ll see if the lazy imps actually carry through with that part.)

And now, with this handy dandy post, you can follow along too!

Week One (last Tuesday): Story

We briefly talked about the difference between a graphic novel and a comic, and then about what makes a story.  We did a little bit of brainstorming- talking about building a story based around a cool character, or a what if question, or whatever- and then set them loose.  This group of twenty kids ranges in age from five to twelve, so there’s quite the skill span, but the beautiful thing about art is that it’s adaptable to all levels.  They did great, and had fun decorating the covers of their workbooks.

Week Two (tomorrow! into the future!): Characters

Outline in hand, the kids will begin sketching their characters.  Ideally, they’ll do sketches of their main cast from a few different angles, and do at least one sketch of any secondary characters, recurring pets, or whatever other livey-movey bits they plan to include.  This will be their chance to decide how much detail they want in their art, and give them an idea of how much time that will take.

Week Three: Setting

Sketching the characters should give them a better idea of their art style, and so this week, we’ll hop into setting.  I want them to sketch out at least two scenes in detail, and then do a couple smaller sketches of maybe the buildings or trees or whatever that will be populating their backgrounds.

Week Four:  Layout

For this week, the students will begin thumbnailing the first few pages of their graphic novels, to get a feel for the amount of dialog, people, movement, panels, etc that will fit on a single page.  We’ll also work on the visual pacing of their story, what style of panels/sound effects/speech bubbles/all the things they want to use, and how much action they want to leave in the gutter between the panels.

Week Five: First page, rough

The kids will start working on their actual first page this week.  They’ll pencil in their panels, their characters, and the background, making sure to leave space for appropriate speech/thought bubbles, sound effects, etc.

Week Six: First page, final

In this the final week, students will ink their comics and put in all the finishing touches of color, text, whatever they’re going with.  At the end of class, each student will be sent home with their workbook, containing all the outlining and sketching we worked on for the first four weeks, and a (hopefully) complete first page.  And I’ll probably offer some kind of extravagant bribery to try to get them to come show me a completed graphic novel at the start of the next school year.  They’ll all be really excited about it, but maybe one will actually take me up on it.  We’ll see.

So that’s the plan!

The kids seem to be enjoying it so far (you know, one session in), and I am too.  I plan to write about an Alaska Native girl who joins her middle school’s Pre-Pre-Med Club (someone on the internet should seriously give me a better name for this) and has to struggle through the prejudices and expectations of her primarily white peers and teachers to prove herself.  Maybe I’ll throw up my first page at the end of the class for you all to admire!

In completely unrelated news, it’s another NaNo month! Yay, Camp!  Between a few submission deadlines, the graphic novel class, and a month unusually full of obligations, I decided to go easy on myself and set a low goal; I’ll be writing at least ten short stories, weighing in at at least 30k.  Totally do-able.

How about you fine internet folk?  Anyone else out there doing camp?  Lemme know your goals for the month so I can cheer you on!

Happy writing!

A Thousand Dollars to Blow

This hypothetical situation brought to you by a kind donation from Uncle Scrooge.

This hypothetical situation brought to you by a kind donation from Uncle Scrooge.

I don’t know about you folks, but I’ve got about three dollars to spend on a good day. That said, one of the best things about being poor is being able to torture your partner with all the cool stuff you can’t afford. A typical conversation may go something like this:

“If you had a thousand bucks to blow, what would you spend it on?”

“Uh… food.”

“No, we already have food.”

Good food.”

“Pick something better.”

“Dental care.”

“No, something fun.”

“Having teeth is fun.”

No. Something fun.”

Siiigh.”

This is what I call “The Caveat Stage”. This is where we get down to the particular genre of things we would spend money on. Last time we played this game, my husband asked what writing stuff I would buy. I talked about different writing software I wanted to try out, but I decided I wanted to revisit the question once I had a little more time to think about it.  So here it is, my well-thought-out spending extravaganza.

Thousand Monies o’ Stuff:

≥600: Light editing for Dead Timmy

≥200: Cover art for Dead Timmy

≥200: Writer’s Digest University

Remainders: Various writing competitions

So. Give what research I’ve done into it, these actually seem like viable numbers. Dead Timmy is hardly more than half the word count that City of the Dead is, putting premier editing costs at about $1200. But I don’t need premier. I figure half that rate is fine if I hunt around for someone willing to go at it for a smaller cost- someone without many projects at the time, someone new to the business and looking to pad the resume, someone I can blackmail and/or bribe with baked goods, etc.

I haven’t looked too deeply into the costs of cover design, but from what I’ve read on other sites, this can actually happen at a much lower cost than what I initially anticipated. Much of the actual designing can be done on one’s own (after tons and tons of research- seriously, if you’re going to cheap out on money, don’t cheap out on time, too). But since I’m not a good enough artist to do make pretty pictures on my own, I’d want to hire a professional, even if that pro is, say, an art student still in college somewhere, or a gal/guy painting on the side. Some places I’ve heard that are good for finding a cover artist on the cheap include Tumblr, DeviantArt, Twitter, and Fiverr. (If you know of others, PRETTY PLEASE let me know in the comments! My ignorance knows no bounds!)

Classes, webinars, and tutorials. I picked Writer’s Digest because they’re widely recognized and have a reputation for quality, but I could really spend this money on any class anywhere. (Except at UAF. I looked up a writing class at my dear ol’ alma mater, but the $800 they wanted for one class wasn’t exactly a steal. Thanks, mater.) A skim through the WD class list cropped up lots of classes that I would very much like to be a part of. Unfortunately, the ones I most liked were pretty far out of my price range (looks like mater wasn’t as pricey as I first thought- I’m just cheap.), but there are a few in the range that I thought would be interesting. (I even managed to squeak into a free webinar recently that I enjoyed. I’ll write about it in a few weeks.)

Anything left over (unlikely, haha) would be put to good use entering writing contests. I’ve never done one with an entry fee and I’d be very interested in seeing what that narrowed pool would do to the playing field.

So after looking all of this up, I realized anew that I’m a chintzy little penny pincher, about as glad to part with money as I am with a pulse. (Also, I’m not allowed to put the money in the bank. I checked.) But since this is pretty much Monopoly money I’m playing with here, why not make things really fun? In fact…

Revised Thousand Monies o’ Stuff:

1000: Wicked awesome book trailer with explosions and lens flares and stuff

Boom, baby. Gonna be SWEET.

PS- A couple of quick reminders!  If you wanted to participate in the Bio Bash, we seem to be meeting up for the Twitter portion on Monday, February 23; longer formats will be posted here at jillmarcotte.wordpress.com the following day, February 24, with critiques from there on out.  If you wanted to participate in the writer-blogger idea exchange, that can be found here– lots of people have been looking at the page, but only two have commented so far. 😦 Remember to give as well as take!