How to solve the plotter/pantser dilemma – Guest Post

calvin-hobbes last minute panicToday we welcome author Alison Morton, who has ideas on how to quell the raging debate between plotting and pantsing.

Do you sit down at the keyboard and just write, a vague idea of the characters and their story swirling around in your head? Then you’re a pantser who writes by the seat of your pants. Maybe you plan every scene and chapter in meticulous detail, paying careful attention to the rules of structure used by your genre.Undoubtedly, you’re a plotter.

Well, I’m not entirely sure these extremes exist, in the same way that Elinor and Marianne Dashwood don’t but are symbols for extremes of Sense and Sensibility. When I write, I usually start classically: a character who is suddenly faced with a terrible dilemma, but I only discover how she’s going to resolve it once I start writing her story. However, sensible hat back on, I do like to know the point she’s going to reach at the end. The story has to have some definite purpose otherwise it becomes a soup of pure muddle. But if I don’t have free rein to develop the story, let the characters spark off each other and encounter and deal with setbacks, then I don’t enjoy the actual writing. There’s no point in creating a story if you can’t have fun doing it!

Now I’m drafting book four in my Roma Nova series, I’m learning how to resolve this dilemma. Yes, I’m acquainted with the main character and I want to tell her story. But that’s it. I need to let her run around in my head a bit, to have some adventures, get into trouble, struggle to get out, land in more – you know the rest. More than anything, I have to get to know her, to find out what she wants, what’s stopping her, what she has to do, or Goal, Motivation, Conflict, as creative writing tutors call it.

My way of doing this is to write down 30 lines of plot. Less an outline, more of a wireframe as I like the 3D analogy better.

Line 1: The beginning – the inciting incident
Line 2: Impact and realisation
Line 3: The plan
Line 6: First enormous set-back (turning point 1)
Line 15: First glimmer of light (turning point 2)
Line 21: Gritting on in face of terrible odds and sacrifice (turning point 3)
Line 25: Despite developments, we might be getting there – the false dawn
Line 28: Catastrophe/black moment – do or die
Line 30: The end – the resolution and loose-end tying-up

I have not put all the lines in, but you get the idea. It’s not fixed but it gives you a skeleton which holds the whole thing together but which will become absorbed into the finished product and never be seen by the reader. Once you have these thirty lines and accept that you might have to change or omit some of the lines and substitute new ones, then you can release your inner pantser, and create and imagine to your heart’s content.

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Alison Morton grew up in Tunbridge Wells, a former spa town in South East England, and worked in the City of London, dealt in coins and antique jewellery, head-hunted chief executives, served as a reserve military officer and owned a translation company. She completed a bachelor’s degree in French, German and Economics and several years later a masters’ in history. She now lives in France with her husband.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…

A wordsmith much of her life – playwright (aged 7), article writer, local magazine editor and translator – she came to novel writing in reaction to a particularly dire film.

‘I could do better that that,’ she whispered in the darkened cinema.

‘So why don’t you?’ came her spouse’s reply.

Three months later, she had completed the first draft of INCEPTIO, the first in her series of Roma Nova thrillers. INCEPTIO was shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award. The next in the series, PERFIDITAS, will be published October 2013.

Find out more about Alison’s writing life, Romans and alternate history at her blog  and say hello on Facebook or Twitter.

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New York, present day, alternate reality. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe.

Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety and a ready-made family. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus who rescued her in America, isolates her.

Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it… 

Inceptio is available at your local Amazon.



Filed under Guest Post, Writing

2 responses to “How to solve the plotter/pantser dilemma – Guest Post

  1. jmcobbrn

    Reblogged this on Juliana Writes and commented:
    I fall into the pantster side of writing. I have a starting character, with a minor problem and a fuzzy ending. Then I write to see where it takes me. Love the learning about my characters, seeing who comes and who goes, and where it all will take me.

  2. Most of the time I don’t even have a vague idea of a story swirling around in my head. I am most definitely an extreme pantser. It’s terrifying at times when you have six months of your life invested in something and no clue how you’re going to dig your way out of this hole….

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