My latest novel has set off in search of a home so I’ve started a new project. I don’t consider myself a pantser or a plotter. Maybe I’m both. Or neither. I’m more of a pitcher.
Since I’m at the beginning of something new, it’s an ideal time to share my process to explain what I mean.
Like most authors I know, I keep random notes that are filled with idea nuggets – characters, behaviors, situations – often just one or two sentences. Deciding which one to pursue starts with a pitch. I sort through the notes and literally sit down and pitch ideas to myself. I mean, this is something I’ll be spending a fair amount of time with over the next 12-16 months so I need to be enthusiastic about the project. My pitch isn’t exactly “plotting.” It begins and ends with the characters. Who’s my hero, who’s my villain, and what do each of them want? What’s stopping them? When, where, and why do their paths cross? How does their confrontation end?
Now, when I say “pitch,” I mean I picture myself standing in front of a room, usually with green walls (I’m not sure why, I just go with it), and I’m talking through the story. If I get through the pitch without gesticulating wildly, the idea goes back in the hopper. There’s no fire in my belly. It’s not fully baked. Maybe it never will be. I let the idea go for the time being and move on to the next one.
This time around, it was the second idea/pitch where I saw myself describing the characters and their primary conflict, hands moving about in the air like an orchestra conductor as I describe the big showdown. I had fun thinking about it. I was onto something.
The next part of the pitch is a little more intense. This is where I unleash my inner critic to challenge the fledging idea. Why do we care about these characters? What makes them relatable? How does their story end? What makes the ending satisfying? Where’s the twist? I love twists so there’s gotta be at least one.
If I’m still interested at this point, I write a short synopsis. Then I keep working on it. A text file that starts as one or two paragraphs becomes a longer narrative. It’s not necessarily a chapter-by-chapter outline, which is why I don’t really consider it “plotting.” But this synopsis does become my reference, a sort of North Star, where I keep adding character notes and plot points throughout the first draft but I leave room for surprises. I’ve learned characters sometimes take the story in a direction that I didn’t expect so I leave lots of room for those inspirational sparks. That’s my pantser side.
Maybe it’s like the Kinsey scale rather than an either/or situation. I clearly lean plotter but I’m not nearly as organized as my hard-core plotter friends. But I’m not a complete pantser, either. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.