Blogger: Wendy Lawton
I’ve been thinking about fiction, specifically about seat-of-the-pants writers this past week. Most writing blogs and workshops identify two kinds of novelists, the planner or as they are often called, the plotter, and the seat-of-the-pants writer, sometimes called a pantser.
NaNoWriMo defines the seat-of-the-pants writer like this: “. . . writers who love to plop down each day at the computer or over a pad of paper and just write, letting your story flow without planning, anxious to see where your story takes you.” From: NaNoWriMo Workshop – Plot « Write Anything
You can find some fun discussions of these two styles online– plotter vs. pantser. Most list pros and cons for each and are carefully nonjudgmental. Forget nonjudgmental. I think there are some real drawbacks to being a seat-of-the-pants writer and I believe there are some genres in which it becomes a true handicap, like suspense and mystery.
Let me tell you why:
Finely Crafted Book: I just picked up a new book and noted that in the myriad reviews one thing was mentioned over and over. The book was “finely crafted.” I’ve thought about that and how important it is to me. I’m a very picky reader. I wish I could just get lost in the story and ignore things like structure and technique but it’s impossible. I come to a book as two types of reader—the eager, story-loving one and the one who looks at the work with an editor’s eye. We all want to deliver a finely crafted book, but the seat-of-the-pants writer is setting himself a time-consuming task to impose structure and craftsmanship at the rewrite stage. A finely crafted book is meticulously planned. The creativity is in the writing and characterization, but knowing who the character is and where the story is going from the very beginning will save the writer a mountain of rewriting.
Story Arc: Each book needs a carefully crafted story arc–the structure of the story. This rarely happens organically. It’s true that after the seat-of-the-pants writer gets comfortable with his character he can go back during rewrite to create the story arc, but it entails much more work than to plan it out in advance.
Pacing: The pacing of a book is essential to a riveting read. I’ve found with manuscripts written by seat-of-the-pants writers the pacing is often off. Rather than carefully calculating the pace–giving enough lead time to key scenes along with enough time for us to absorb important events–the author writes the scenes as she pictures them. If the writing flows on that particular day the scene is long. If the writing is staccato on another day, the scene is clipped.
Continuity of Characters: I recently read a manuscript written by a seat-of-the-pants writer. I could tell that halfway through she changed her mind as to who the hero would be. We were being led in one direction, and then, all of a sudden, the guy we we were rooting for was revealed as the scoundrel. When I questioned the author about it, she admitted that she decided to change her character mid-manuscript. She didn’t realize that she was a strong enough writer that we liked him when she liked him in those early chapters, even if she changed her mind later.
Foreshadowing: The reader loves to have hints about what is to come, and a skilled writer pays attention to how these are woven in from page one. The seat-of-the-pants writer has to do this after the fact. This is especially important in writing suspense. The reader needs to suspect trouble long before the character does. This takes a deft hand and some skillful planning.
Placement of Key Information: Like foreshadowing, the writer needs to know when to offer information and when to hold it back. That’s how we create mystery. That’s how we drop in a red herring to send the reader off in a different direction. The skillful writer carefully manipulates these nuggets for the ultimate effect.
I know it’s fun to talk about a character coming onstage and stealing the whole book or to tell readers you have no idea what the characters are going to do until you follow them around, but I felt I needed to make the case for the carefully planned book–the finely crafted book.
Agree? Disagree? As I was telling one of my clients, I look forward to the discussion here because I’m often given a powerful argument for the other side. Yes, I learn as much from you as you do from me. I’m going to be out of the office until late afternoon so I may be late to the party, but I look forward to hearing what you think.
Creating the finely crafted novel. Tough for the seat-of-the-pants writer. Click to Tweet
Pantser? Plotter? This lit agent makes the case for careful planning. Click to Tweet