Seat of Your Pants: Plot of Your Pants; Plodding Along

There’s a dichotomy in the writer’s world, one that divides brother against brother, sister against mother.  This great gulf, this chasm that cannot be bridged, it’s the methodology of how you plan your book.

The Seat of the Pants people (Pantsers, in the vernacular) prefer to eschew a road map. “My destination? I’ll see where that is when I get there,” they say dreamily. It’s a wonder any of them ever finish a book. I mean, who can do that?

Me, I’m a plotter. A hard core plotter. It’s a military operation! Give me graphs, maps, and flow charts.  Let’s see that character arc! Yessir! I want complete load-outs and weapons check by 0530! You characters, line up and fill out your character bios. You there! Don’t you leave your unconscious goal blank! I want some plot twists laid down and they better be ambushes. I don’t want the reader to see that claymore until it goes off! When the reader gets to the end, he’d best be holding in his entrails with a spoon!!!!

Er.

Confession time.

I’m not so hot in the planning department. While I don’t have much truck with Hobbes’ view on mankind as some sort of pleasure-seeking paramecium, you’d think I’d still seek the pleasures and delights that having a good plot would give you. I start with good intentions, and somewhere about chapter 6, I say, “Who am I kidding? This is a different story than the one in the plot outline.”

I know, some of you are saying, “that’s okay, Matt! You’re one of us. Pantsers are great! You’ll do fine. You can reach the end.” That’s not the problem, nor the solution. I still need an outline. If, for nothing else, to get a great character arc, and then figure out enough plot twists to do something fun that isn’t always predictable and trite.

Those are some pretty vague goals, aren’t they? If I was a character, I’d accuse my author of being lazy and not raising the stakes enough. “Give him some conflict. This whole `I can’t plot a book’ is pretty boring. Can you put in an explosion?”

Perhaps it’s time to turn to the internet random plot generator:

A disfigured wizard is forced to carry out witchcraft.

I guess that would resonate with the BDSM and handicapped community. “Cast the spell, you worm, or I’ll take your wheelchair away!” Fifty shades of handicapped magic.

An untidy cat burglar accidentally picks up an ancient scroll.

Hmmm. Untidy? That’s it? I see a character arc where he becomes super-neat by the end of the book, and is a successful cat burglar after that. How do you accidentally pick up an ancient scroll? Maybe he could become disfigured and be forced to carry out witchcraft.

A fireman has 24 hours to transport – back through time – orphans.

Now we’re talking! Time travel. Why 24 hours? It’s time travel. Take your time, you can just select when you want to arrive with the handy time-o-matic time machine!

When one is thrown out, a car load of lost hoodlums go on a sea voyage.

Oooh, I see some real potential there. “Hey Bubba.” “Yeah, Moxie?” “Why are we on this sailboat, anyways?” “Because we’re going to get the treasure first!” “Oh. Are we going to hit someone to get it?”

A disorganised train driver has a day to prove their theory.

Maybe the untidy cat burgler can help him. And the fireman with his time machine and orphans. Bah!

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10 thoughts on “Seat of Your Pants: Plot of Your Pants; Plodding Along

    • I read some people responding to this particular question of methodology with “I never ever plot. I always want it to be a surprise!” And I think, “well, it’ll be a surprise if you plot it, because as you plot, you can throw in a twist or a change and say, I didn’t see that coming!” What fun! It’s always going to be fresh and new if you plot it or write it. Plotting it means that you’re taking the long view, and I’ll bet that most folks who never embraced plotting might have better plots if they tried it. Not in a “I tried to learn how to cook that but I can’t” sort of way my wife does because she’d rather not do it, not because she can’t, but because she doesn’t want to, but in a “I genuinely tried this and gave it my all, and I could not do it.”

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      • I just feel like when I over plot from the beginning I restrict my own creativity because I feel like I have to conform to my original idea. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I plan, but don’t over plan.

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        • Ah, ah, you said “overplot.” An outline is not overplotting. Indeed, how can you overplot? Your creativity can flow out during outlining, or it can flow out during writing. It’s the same result! It’s the same brain turning out the same ideas. It’s like people saying, “I think better in the shower, so I like to write on plastic with grease markers, instead of doing it on paper.” Outlining is pantsing. It’s just a different form. Maybe you go about it a little differently, but there’s still creative process and you’re not stifling anything by planning ahead. “But I won’t have my aha moment in chapter 20.” No. You’ll have your aha moment in the outline. Which is the same thing as chapter 20. Just with fewer words.

          Maybe I don’t understand what you mean by overplotting. What does overplotting mean? Curse this subjective language!! If only we could speak solely in absolutes.

          Liked by 2 people

  1. I’ll say this for the plot generator, I’m definitely curious about why those orphans need to be whisked back into the past by a fireman so badly. The rational part of me says all the kids’ parents perished in a blaze and the fireman has figured out how to save them. The twisted part of me say the fireman is an evil bastard who’s taking the kids back just to make them watch their parents burn.

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    • LOL. The plot generator might be noted for its more WTH moments than any semblance of good plots. It’s more of a mad lib plotter: The _Insert adverb, insert noun_ must _verb_ by _Time period_ with _number_ _Noun plural_. There’s a few variations, but one could probably create a better version with an excel spread sheet and a sampling of a few hundred words.

      If you were a fireman with a time machine, would you be concerned with a few orphans, or would you be getting the winning lotto numbers from last week? That’s strength of character. I can see the book blurb:
      He’s a dedicated fireman with a time machine. And he’s only got 24 hours to save the orphans.
      FIRETIME
      A new novel from the bestselling author

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  2. I love your militaristic view of getting your plot and characters in line! I was shouting ‘yes!’ – I love graphing my outlines and no, they never end up exactly as I foresaw because new ‘aha’ moments happen along the way the more I get to know my characters – but I’m okay with that… I just replot when I need to. If I don’t know where I’m going it’s easy to get lost or stuck along the way. I don’t know if the reason I’ve never had writer’s block is because I’m a plotter and not a pantser, I just know that it works for me 😉
    If you want some cool title generators to help kick-start your creativity stop by Tara Sparling Writes… I tried my hand at her version of sticking her tongue out at the patterns she’s observed with book titles and I was so inspired that my next series is based off one of the book titles I generated lol!

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    • So… MJ, remember the part where you said I was a “Give it to me” kind of guy?

      You didn’t put a link. Seriously.

      ;D My google-fu is strong. I will find it.

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  3. You sound like a writer! I wrote my first book as a pantser and quickly became a plotter. Yet, no matter how hard I try to get those characters to follow orders, they snub their noses at me. I end up going back and adjusting the plot. I think it’s the nature of the beast, and the surprises definitely keep me engaged in the process.

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