• Sophie Russell

An Elephant Plotting World Domination While Wearing Pants?

With NaNoWriMo next month—now, a little over a week away—I figured I’d address an elephant in the living room when it comes to writing. The elephant has been there so long that most people don’t see it anymore.

You can find books on pantsing, you can find books on plotting, but ne’er the twain shall meet, right?


In my writing journey, I tried plotting first. I had an excellent story idea, I had a world built in my head, the characters were fairly solid and dynamic, and I tried to plot. The plot was excellent! It was bulleted, organized, and a thing of beauty—if you dig organization. I sat down to write it, and all my passion and wonder had disintegrated.

I couldn’t write it. It was painful for me to try and write it.

So, I stopped.

Then, I thought, “Well, maybe I’m a pantser.” It would make sense. As I was plotting, the characters would chime in and disagree or support or generally throw their weight around. Maybe, I just need to give them free reign and just go at it from A to B!

I took another idea with a world built, solid characters that were dynamic and active, and I sat down to write. I even bought this handy little device that only allowed me to see three lines of text at a time. And it worked!

But it didn’t really.

After 50,000 words, I had no idea who was who, where was where, what was what, or why was why. My characters had each taken separate reigns and went in wildly different directions. Stuff that was important for the story was entire left out, and stuff that mattered fuckall went on for pages and pages and pages and pages.

There was no redeeming it. It was an uneditable stream of consciousness, and I had no idea what to do.

So, I sat and thought. Plotter or pantser? Gardener or architect? Those two comparisons are roughly talking about the same thing, right?

Pretty much.

But here’s the thing no one really talks about. Writing process in on a spectrum, and one book can be wildly different from another. Moreover, plotting and pantsing are just opposite ends of the spectrum and there is a lot of variation in between.

When I sat down to write Stroll into Love—which you should read if you haven’t already and be sure to write a review, because it’s tough to start out as a newbie author and reviews help us—I tried to go from point A, to point B, to point C, and so on. That—logically—made sense to me. Writing can be done linearly, whether plotting or pantsing. But writing can also be done entire out of order.

When I tried to write linearly, the characters weren’t as active. There were scenes that were important to both my MCs, and I was writing to get to those scenes. After I had written about seventy-five percent of my book, though, everything fell apart, and I hadn’t even gotten to the scenes that were so important. I’d just tried a mix of plotting and pantsing to see if it worked.

The mix was helpful, but unfortunately linear storytelling does not work with my brain. At all. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, in reading my blog posts, but I circle around quite a bit. I write about a lot of ideas, and then bring them together in the end.

Or at least I try to.

I scrapped about 50,000 words of my initial attempt, and then I was like, “Fuck it. If this scene is so important, I’m fucking writing it first, even if it occurs like half-way through!” So that’s what I did. Then more scenes came to me, and I wrote them. Then, I could put them in a linear order, and write the in betweens (This is actually how traditional animation is frequently done, and—funny story—I was in school for animation for a while, because it seriously worked with my brain. That’s a story for a different time, though.)

When I did that, I found threads to weave through the story that I otherwise would not have found. I wove the scenes together.

Ultimately, I’m not a plotter or pantser, I’m a motherfucking weaver! Or at least that’s what I’m calling it. It’s somewhere in between plotting and pantsing, and it’s somewhere between linear writing and non-linear writing. And it works for my brain.

That’s the trick, though. Finding what works with your brain. There might be people out there who can’t even imagine half-way through, because their brains work purely linearly. Then there might be people who don’t exactly know what the beginning is and just need to write scenes that make sense. Then there are people who write backwards!

But weaving works for me. If you have trouble finding what works for you, give that a shot. Give writing backwards a shot. Give what your soul is crying out for a shot! Because, here’s the deal—THERE IS MORE THAN PLOTTING AND PANTSING‼‼‼‼ Those are just two ends of one spectrum, and there are at least two other spectrums (i.e. linear and nonlinear, and chronological and achronological). There are probably more. But play around with combinations to see what works.

Also—to go wide with this concept—consider what other “either/or” thoughts you have about the world and question the shit outta them. Cats or dogs? Both for me. Chicago or NY style pizza? Both are pizza, thus neither is objectionable. Apple or Microsoft? I use both for different purposes. Either/or rarely fits our world, but people try to paint it black and white. That type of thinking doesn’t accommodate diversity, inclusion, or variance. Moreover, either/or is a type of logical fallacy. It creates the illusion that it’s one way or another, but there are, more often than not, options in between.

Just some food for thought.



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