To Plot, or To Pants?

Here we are, a scant two weeks away from NaNoWriMo 2011! As I announced on Twitter last night, I have arrived at a decision about the topic for my NaNo novel, with a nice margin of time to ruminate on it.

I read this post today on Tony Noland’s blog, and basically he’s got the finer points of getting through NaNoWriMo down. However, I am a dyed-in-the-wool pantser, meaning I never plot. Maybe I should, but I’ve achieved a 50-50 success rate with NaNo not plotting. However, that said, neither the year I didn’t finish, or the year I did, turned into anything salvageable. At least I don’t think so. Maybe plotting would help. If I start getting a lot of ideas about this character (and now that it’s fixed in my mind as my NaNo topic, I probably will) I may start some outlining. Or at least jot down some thoughts. I keep most of it in my head all the time anyway. (So that’s what those voices are!)

I’m introducing a new character into my vampire novel, and essentially what I’m writing for NaNo is the character’s backstory. I don’t intend to turn the character into a MC in a book, it’s a supporting part, but a good one. Mostly I’m using this as an opportunity to flesh out the character ahead of time. Then again who knows what bits might come up that would prove useful to the vampire novel? Speaking of which, I really need to come up with a title for it. I feel like Holly Golightly and her cat: No name until it gets a permanent home. I’ve been playfully calling it “Revenants Abroad” but I don’t know if that would fly when I get around to submitting it, although I’ve seen lots of punny titles recently.

But what if this character does work into something more? Could be. I expect in the course of the month I will find out if it’s got that much potential. I guess it’s really up to me if it goes that way or not, though, eh? A whole month to work on one character… yeah, it might earn a whole book to itself. And yes, I’m being purposely vague about the character. I have an image in my mind that I want to bring to life on the page, but I am superstitious about talking too much about a WIP. Suffice to say, I think I will end up liking this character very much.

Don’t write it right, just write it—and then make it right later. —  TARA MOSS


11 thoughts on “To Plot, or To Pants?

  1. sounds like a brilliant idea – I think drawing out a character like this is at least as valuable, if not more so, than just a plain outline. What you call pantsing I call inspiration, letting the muse take you.


  2. I expect this one will be a lot of fun. I got a very clear picture in my mind, kind of out of nowhere one day and decided this character really needs to be brought to life (but not in a creepy Dr. Frankenstein kind of way). I’m just going to run with it and see what happens. 🙂


  3. Good luck with NaNo! I will miss being part of that frenzy.

    As for the plotting/pantsing…I’m the latter. I’ve tried outlines, but they’ve just never worked out for me. My characters just ended up raising their chins and haughtily declaring, “Pff. That’s not our story. Write THIS.” I’ve learned my writing goes much smoother when I let them have their way. Or, as MaryJ wrote, follow my intuition.

    That said, plenty of other writers love outlines, so it’s certainly something you might want to try if you haven’t.

    As for characters, I sometimes enjoy doing astrological charts for them. Not full charts- but discovering their sun, moon, and rising signs to get their inner and outer personalities, secrets, hopes, fears, whatnots.


  4. I think if I ever sit down and get serious with the novel in my head, I’ll have to do a chronological outline – it involves a big family with a lot of siblings, and at some point I have to figure out what year everybody was born, what their cultural reference points are, what school would’ve been like for each of them, and even whether my “present” is taking place now, in 2011, or 10 years ago, or someplace in between. Re: the plot, though, I feel more like Gypsy and DD – every once in while these characters just tap me on the shoulder and I realize I know something else about ’em.

    I’ve read interviews with Sue Grafton in which she explains that pretty much all her “alphabet” novels take place in the 1980’s, so she doesn’t have to keep updating the technology with which her MC is dealing. Westlake’s Dortmunder novels, on the other hand, became, after a point, a funny commentary about a maturing craftsman with good fundamental skills (Dortmunder’s a theif) who has to deal with a changing world in order to make a living. And then there’s Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad” – has anybody read this? It is actually a story about the ways in which people tell stories are changing, in this new century. Dazzling stuff.


  5. I like the idea of doing astrological charts for them, I may have to try that!

    Chronology of the story is vital, I’ve caught myself screwing up timing with characters who are in different countries, but their actions are dependent on eachother doing things at certain times. That’s tricky to sort out if you don’t keep on top of it.

    I haven’t read Egan’s book yet. There was so much hype about it last year I kind of got sick of hearing about it. I’m more likely to pick something up based on your recommendation, MJ, so I’ll definitely check it out. 🙂


    1. Be patient with Egan – the first few chapters are fairly traditional, and deal with a less-than-likeable character who looks as though she is going to be the protagonist, but she isn’t. She sort of drifts off after a while (on purpose – this book is about how in the moment, some people and events seem as though they are going to be really important, while others seem a little ancillary, but over time, Fate’s priorities for each of us and all of us are actually much different than we expected) and the technique really takes off. It seems that the really good new writers are fooling around with the reality and malleability of time (you recall Tinkers, yes?)


  6. I’m in! And I have a new novel in mind, too, so in these 2 weeks I may try to plot out some narrative. I always get so caught up in the characters that they rarely get much opportunity to do anything. Will be interesting if I can keep up blog posts, too… or maybe I can use them as a counterbalance(or just to procrastinate)? 🙂


  7. Yay! I think you find once you get going you’re going to have more ideas than time to write them all down. It’s like opening a flood gate. Even with all my different blogs and all the stories I’ve got cooking, all I lack is time to get to it all.

    Just go with what you’ve got. If you want to write all characters for 30 days, do it. Don’t hold it back, turn off that inner editor! You can flesh out the rest of it later. As they say, that’s what December’s for 😉 November is all about word count!


  8. I always marvel at your artwork. Love the sheet of paper and remember Anne Rice must have asked herself the same questions and she didn’t do too badly.

    It’s wonderful that you’re penning a novel.

    Great quote at the end, and how you share. So admirable.



  9. Thanks, Susannah, but I can’t take credit for the graphic, I swiped it off the internet 😉

    And someday I may even finish the novel! Wouldn’t that be something?


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