Plotting vs. Pantsing. Who has the perfect recipe?

wedding cake two                It always starts the same way…a love scene in my mind between the hero and heroine.  There is passion and a hint of anger.  What is not present is the story that binds it all together into a manuscript.  This is how I’ve written eight of my nine manuscripts, a vision that stretches into a story.  There are always a lot of starts and stops.  Rewrites and rewrites.  So this epitome of pantsing, is it really so bad if I have the discipline to make it right in the end?

In my day job as a multimedia representative, one of the things I do is to give classes to Realtors on how to write ads.  As I tell them, “What’s an ad, but the home’s story?  Describe the home and all the possibilities so that someone can actually picture themselves living there.”

I use my own home as an example.  It is predominantly decorated in butter yellow, sage green and geranium red.  But you don’t stop with that description; you take it to the next level.  “With the colors of Tuscany throughout, you’ll be able to vacation in your own dream cottage as you embrace the warm butter yellows, cool sage greens and vibrant, passionate red accents…”

I tell my Realtors that it is like baking a cake.  Without the correct ingredients, added in the right order, what do you have? (Have you tried adding sugar to the cake batter right before it goes into the oven instead of creaming it with the butter?  Bad idea.  You’ll soon realize your mistake when your cake comes out of the oven with a caramel burnt bottom.)

Just like a little ad that tells the story of a house, writing a book should be done in the proper sequence.  Map out the plot; know your characters down to their birthdays, eye color and personality traits.  Watch your character arc, make sure it spikes in just the right spot.  Know the goal, motivations, yadda yadda…

Unfortunately for me, I don’t practice what I preach.  Maybe pantsers don’t follow recipes, because they create recipes in their own unique way.

I realized late one evening that my office was having a potluck the next day.  I didn’t want to go to the store, but a readymade store bought cheese platter was prevalent in my mind if I couldn’t pull something together with my sometimes well stocked pantry.

I opened the cupboard, grabbed salt water cured ripe green olives, artichoke hearts, Italian salad dressing mix, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and sundried tomatoes.  From the fridge, I grabbed green and red bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls.  A few open cans later, a little draining in the strainer, a whack-whack of the knife, a brightly colored bowl purchased in Italy filled with items happily resembling the Italian flag in the colors of red, white and green… I had an “antipasti salad”.

I’ve made that salad half a dozen times, and it is always a crowd pleaser.

By the same token, I don’t follow the recipe when it comes to writing manuscripts.  But, in light of having an agent, I have a strong desire to please and the need to raise the level of my proficiency when faced with limited time.  Therefore, this pantser is going to try something different with manuscript number nine:  I’m plotting.

But no matter if you are a pantser or plotter, embrace what makes your recipe a little different than everyone else’s.  Now get cookin’!


Posted on November 11, 2013, in General and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Okay, now I want cake. And antipasti salad!


  2. Add some cooked pasta and you’ve got a whole other dish! Lovely post!


  3. Great Post Mary! Your opening sentence had me hooked LOL Mainly because that is the last scene that comes to me but a random scene is usually how I start my stories too.


  4. I tried outlining a book….notice the word tried. Maggie calls me a linear pantser. I write from beginning to end, and though I always have some specific plot points I want to include, I let the story tell itself through my fingers. Of course, the characters demand their say too, so I’m never quite sure what’s going to happen.


  5. Just like you have the makings for the salad, I always have the makings for mint brownies. You never know when you’re going to need mint brownies 🙂

    However, when I make the mint brownies, even though it’s a box mix and only has three ingredients — oil, water and eggs — I have still screwed it up. (Turns out, yeah, box mix don’t work without the eggs…) I guess that’s why I’m a plotter!


  6. Definitely do what works best for you. One of the hardest steps in being a writer is trusting yourself, your process, your story, and in the end having the confidence that it is good. As long as you can do that–no matter what others say–you will be in good shape.


  7. “But no matter if you are a pantser or plotter, embrace what makes your recipe a little different than everyone else’s.” Good advice! I sometimes get lost in what everyone else is doing and how much better they are than I, rather than remembering that I have my own unique flavor.


  8. Graeme, I have to admit, the plotting is harder at the beginning, but it does seem to make the actual book writing easier. Thank you for the feedback!


  9. From a pantser-turned-plotter, I wish you the best with this new endeavor! I tried plotting as an experiment, but now I’ll never go back.


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