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Monday, January 20, 2014

Plotting v. Pantsing: Is One Superior Over the Other?

Lisa Cron wrote a controversial post over at Writers Unboxed last week that has given this age-old discussion a recent boost. She's the author of Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence.

Hop over there and read it. Don't forget to check out the comments, because great authors like James Scott Bell and even agent Donald Maass chimed in under the comments section.

This is obviously a subject that pushes buttons. One commenter called writing by the seat of your pants a form of "literary masturbation." No joke.

Maass made this point:
I’m not at all against writing that get us to “see” things and “apprehend” moments with arresting clarity. That’s beautiful writing. But neither can I elevate plot over process. Both approaches create something fiction needs to be great. Greatness, though, comes from a synthesis of strong story events and deft use of the vast pallet of literary technique.
James Scott Bell, author of Plot and Structure, so a proponent of some aspect of structure to "set your story free," wrote a post on The Kill Zone about the Perils of Pure Pantsing. He makes the following statement about balancing of creation within a structure:
There is an art, of course, to all this. A time to play and risk and explore. It should be done strategically, though, for the greatest benefit.
Risking and exploring, yet done strategically. I love this concept, as it's a good place for writers who eschew plotting altogether to understand what it can do for them.

What's missing from the discussion in general, in my estimation, is the allowance for personality. Yes, pantsers can shove themselves into the outlining box. It does happen. 

But at what cost? 

The love of writing, for some, is found in the process. They accept the rewriting, or as Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird, a "really shitty first draft."

Cron's purpose in the post wasn't exactly clear to me. She says she wasn't trying to "bash pantsing" with her article, but in the same paragraph where she says that maybe plotting isn't a person's "inherent, hardwired process," (a statement I heartily approve of!) she said, "Maybe it's a bad habit you picked up along the way."

That sounds like bashing to me.

Of course, the only reason I took exception to the post is b/c I'm a semi-pantser...I just didn't see the need to leave a comment with my disgruntlement (only b/c I chose to write an entire post instead).

What made me laugh was the long-winded commenters, most of whom were proponents of some sort of creative freedom. I'm sure their personalities drove them to write what they did, and I'm sure they wrote stream of consciousness to defend their pantsing ways. And likely, they hit "Submit" and knew an extreme self-satisfaction. It's in their personalities!

Bell's post resonated with me, so check it out as well at the link provided above. He values the process as well as the structure, and believes having a little bit of both can really aid a writer.

Maass requested that Cron write a post pushing plot-driven authors "off their high hill," as she so effectively did with writers "trapped in the loop of their 'process.'"

I'll be waiting for that post.

Let's Analyze

What are your thoughts? Is it fair to elevate either into a place of superiority?