Are you a PLOTTER or PANSTER?
Some of you may have heard these terms used rather loosely while talking to a Fiction Writer about their craft, and wondered what he or she was talking about.
I myself am a Panster! There, I’ve said it. I have confessed…
So now let me explain the difference between the two before you think me evil and unfriend me.
A plotter is a person who sits down and outlines a plot of their story following a structured approach. This approach will most likely drill down to chapter headings and a rough outline of the contents of each chapter ending with the grand finale.
A story outline such as this is sometimes a requirement for submissions to agents and/or publishers and it is an approach many authors follow.
The opposite to a Plotter, the Pantser sits down and writes, allowing their creativity to take over. There is no plan, the story develops itself on the fly as the author writes.
There is no right or wrong way to writing your story. It’s whatever works for you as the author or more importantly, the reader as he/she is the ultimate judge of whether it is working.
PLOT and STORY
What’s the difference you ask?
Well let’s use my novel Colour of Greed as an example. David Burrows, while driving home one evening, comes across one of his buildings that has collapsed during an earthquake, causing the deaths to many and maiming others for life. He blames himself and is forever wondering how it happened. That’s a story.
Now change that to include an anonymous tip-off that something was not right with the structure itself and other unknown parties that try stop David from finding out the truth, and you have your plot.
A good plot must always have something at stake. A life or love, or something simple like trying to clear your protagonist’s name.
To be a good Fiction Writer you must keep raising the stakes. That’s what gives your plot momentum and makes your reader want to turn the pages.
Everyone wants to see good triumph over evil. We live in a world where so much bad stuff happens, that we as readers want to see a satisfying outcome. Some form of closure. But don’t make it too easy.
Conflict creates drama. My main characters in the story are generally your ordinary every-day people like you and me, who get confronted by either a worthy villain who means them harm or a puzzle that needs to be solved. Avoiding or outwitting the villain becomes the conflict. Or if it’s a puzzle of sorts that needs to be solved, don’t make the solution too easy, or possibly put a time limit on it. That too becomes the conflict.
Something else to bear in mind is that your villain may even become your main character. Take Ned Kelly for instance. When you read about his exploits one sometimes doesn’t want him to get caught.
Thomas Harris does it brilliantly with Dr. Hannibal Lecter in his sequel ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ whereby you actually like Hannibal even if he is the primary antagonist.
TWISTS and SURPRISES
One of the things you can do to keep the momentum up is to introduce twists or surprises in you plot. Be careful however not to overdo it though, or your reader may get confused with all the red herrings or simply feel that there is no end to the conflict and get bored with the story.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
If you can condense your story into telling it in a few minutes, that is your plot.
We call it the Elevator Pitch.
Imagine you’re getting into as elevator with a total stranger. You’re on the top floor and he asks what your story is about. You should be able tell him what it is about before you reach the ground floor. If they say wow, that sounds interesting, then that is the story. Don’t over embellish or pad it so as to get a high word count and make it look like ‘War and Peace’.
On the other hand, if your mystery listener in the elevator bursts out laughing and tells you not to give up your day job, then simply stop the lift between floors. When the police find the body at the bottom of the lift shaft with a note in their pocket saying they are sorry—just that—I’M SORRY, you have the ideal plot for a Fiction Writer.
Next time we’ll look at how to create good CHARACTERS, but for now, keep on writing…