NaNoWriMo 2013: Plotting vs Pantsing

24 Oct 2013, 2:21 p.m.
For my fourth attempt at NaNoWriMo, I'm trying something a bit different: going in with a vague idea of what I want to write.

In the great plotters-vs.-pantsers 1 debate, I have always, always been a pantser 2. I wrote an outline for a short story in English class once, aged eleven, because the teacher said we had to; it was about eight words long. When I got to the halfway point in 'A Right and Proper Burial', I did note down some plot points for the rest of the story, but possibly only because it was time to eat some more delicious cake or drink some tasty wine. (It was that sort of writers' holiday.)

In my three previous tries at NaNoWriMo, a challenge in which one attempts to write a 50,000-word short novel within the 30 days of November, I went in completely blind, crashing and bumping my way through my plots on what would have been the seat of my pants, had I even been wearing pants. This approach succeeded once, by the NaNoWriMo metric, at least. Unfortunately, though the draft that resulted had the germ of a good book in it (I think so, anyway), it was heavily encumbered by extra scenes and storylines that I'd put in just to keep writing, hoping that something worth keeping would turn up.

In 2008 and 2010, I got less than halfway with my novels before giving up. Perhaps unrelatedly, I note that both of those were contemporary fantasy, a genre I don't really read.

This year, I've decided to try different tactics. The story I want to write is one I've been thinking about for months on end, a murder mystery — my first — set on Svalbard, with lesbian vampire romance. Since I've already spent so long daydreaming about the characters and researching the setting 3, why not go the whole hog and plan my plot as well?

Well, the obvious answer is that I don't know how to. Over the weekend, though, I started making notes on the events of the book from the perspective of several different characters, and found it really helpful for working out more about them and details of the plot. This is the kind of useful revelation I would usually have whilst chasing my day's wordcount goal with pointless sentence after pointless sentence. Perhaps getting them down before I actually start to write the book will be helpful? (Tune in next week, when I show you all how to suck eggs.)

I have high hopes for this new way of writing, and for this book. If things go well, I'll report back with my triumph.

1 Does anyone know the origin of these terms? I first came across them in Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! but perhaps he got them from somewhere else.

2 That's pantser and not Panzer, sadly.

3 Did you know that the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge will let you just walk in and use their library, if you fill out a form saying you're working on a project? This is possibly the best thing I've learned this year. Thanks, James!