Friday, July 6, 2012

Guest Post and Giveaway!!!

Today the wonderful Christopher Loke talks about his thoughts on Pansters vs. Plotters and I think with this post we'll have a lot of different views after reading his piece! I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments!!

GIVEAWAY - One lucky winner will walk away with The Housekeepers Son! So tweet your little hearts out and facebook all about it! I'd love to know who's interested in snagging a copy of this awesome authors book!

Panster vs. Plotter
By Guest Blogger Christopher Loke

The other day I was visiting with a fellow writer, and after talking a bit about her book I asked her what it was about. She proceeded to tell me about her characters and the ending, after which she stopped and said, “I don’t know how everything’s going to turn out, but it’ll get there [the ending]. I’ll work it out somehow.”

“You mean you don’t know what your book is all about yet?” I asked.

“Oh, I do,” she answered. “I know how it’s going to end. I just need to find out what happens between the beginning and the ending.”

I was surprised at her response. “Find out? You mean you don’t have any idea of what’s going to happen? Don’t you have a plot?”

“All I need is just the beginning and the ending, and my characters will show me the way.”

I was baffled at her answer. Shock horror! I know she is not alone in this peculiar habit of writing. Many writers have the idea—though I know not where it comes from—that words are going to come down from the sky, and their characters are going to lead the way. Well, let me say this: there is no such thing as characters “leading the way.” It’s a myth—a popular one at that. But a myth, nonetheless. As such, there is also no such thing as writers block. It’s an excuse we give ourselves to not write, a word of comfort for not churning out results and words on pages.

Imagine a doctor stopping in the middle of a surgery, and saying, “I have surgeons block. This’ll have to wait for another day.” Again, shock horror! My point is, writing to authors should be as professional as surgery to surgeons. Our business is the business of writing, of creating words on paper that act as narratives to stories and worlds without bounds. Our business is about measuring information in meticulous precision; one word too many can cause a sentence to fall apart, alliteration to get messy; it can cause the destruction of the impeccable iambic pentameter. And we balance all this while still trying to tell a story.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are authors who are in the business of perfectionism. And since we are in the business of telling, we must surely understand the concept of knowing. Yes, knowing, or simply understanding. We need to be in control of everything that happens in the book—our characters, our timeline, our purpose. Without that control, we might as well be writing a journal, words that ramble on forever without purpose.

With purpose comes plot. Let me say that last word again: PLOT. It is the framework to your story, the skeleton to the narrative you will write. Without that framework, you have nothing, and it doesn’t matter if you know the ending or not. JK Rowling plotted out the entire Harry Potter series in notes detailing the actions and circumstances of each character good and bad. Look where that took her.

Yes, yes, you are probably thinking, I know people who got published and they are pansters. Well, if you want to believe it, go ahead. But based on my experience as executive editor, I have never seen a good book that did not come with a stable, well-thought plot from start to finish.

As an author, I plotted The Housekeeper’s Son about six weeks before I started writing it. I needed to know who did what. I needed to know what happened in every chapter. I needed to know who said what, and who made who cry—and in my case, I needed to know who killed who. Once I had the plot in place, I knew exactly how to tell the story. I was now free to move chapters and subplots around without losing my place. And by plotting my story, I was also able to craft the most effective way to write it. I was then truly the master of my ship.

There are loonies out there who think writing is a piece of cake so long as they have the beginning and ending. WRONG. While they can churn out stories, I question their quality. I can’t even count the number of times I read a manuscript and gagged because I wasn’t going anywhere three chapters into the book. The narrative rambled on, the stories lackluster.

When all is said and done, my point is loud and clear. I am no panster. I’m a plotter, the engineer of words, the craftsman of stories. And what better honor can there be for an author?



Christopher Loke, executive editor for Jolly Fish Press, has made a splash in the writing world with his powerful and touching novel, The Housekeeper’s Son. This novel explores how far a mother can go for love. The answer? Murder. The Housekeeper’s Son is available as a hardcover and ebook through all major online retailers and a local bookstore near you. Follow Mr. Loke on Twitter and Facebook for updates on his signings and events.

19 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Hey, I spent four months on the outline for my current manuscript! If I didn't plot out the whole thing, my story would wander off into the desert and never return.

DL Hammons said...

Hmmmmmm. Christopher just made himself a whole lot of friends (and yes...I'm being facetious).

Sandra Almazan said...

I'm glad Christopher found a process that works for him; however, that does not mean he should put down other people's writing processes. To paraphrase my editor, plotters develop the plot before writing, and pansters do so afterward, in revision. (We don't have to write perfectly on the first draft; we can change things. The key is not to spend forever rewriting one story.) There are degrees of pantsing and degrees of plotting. Some people may find outlines too restricting, too formulaic. The important thing is to find a method that works for the individual writer.

I would also like to recommend Christopher read Kristine Kathyrn Rusch's recent post on perfectionism. Writers should strive to make their works as good as they can, but it is impossible to make anything perfect. You will not grow as a writer unless you can release a story into the world and move onto something else. Too much emphasis on perfectionism can freeze a writer into not putting any words down for fear they are the wrong ones.

Maurice Mitchell said...

People write in different ways I guess. I'm not a "writer" so I'm not sure what works other than pen to paper...or keyboard.

Jen Daiker said...

I figured since we're all sharing views that I'd share mine.

I'm a panster by nature. Free writing to form writing is how I see myself. I enjoy it. It allows me to be free of responsibility.

That being said it does mean towards the end I have more trouble organizing the plot and revising, but I still prefer it because the emotion is really conveyed. I also type far too fast to spend time plotting an idea when my personality is GO GO GO GO GO GO GO rest.

Thank you for sharing all of your views! I know this is a very controversial subject and all opinions count!

Clarissa Draper said...

I agree with you, Christopher. While some may write in a panster style for the first draft, they will have a lot more work in revision than do plotters. For me, if I were a panster, I would get the first draft done faster but my second draft would pretty much be my first draft because of all the errors. I also don't believe in writers block. When I have a firm plot, I can write without a block at all. It's only when I don't have that firm plot, I get the "block".

Anthony said...

This post makes no logical sense.

First we have the slush pile with a bunch of drek. Everyone knows that the slush pile contains, well, slush, but the post doesn't present any insights into if those were, actually, plotted or pants-ed manuscripts. We're led to assume pants-ed, but not in anyway we can follow. Unless an editor can magically connect the dots between "some people pants!" and "this slush sucks!" it's not a logical argument that stands on its own.

There is this huge jump: This chick I know is a pantser. Therefore, all the bad slush is caused by pantsters.

Then, back to the writing friend, what would have been telling if the author reviewed the friend's manuscript and reported that yes, the plot is bad. But we don't get that.

Then we get a false comparison to a writer and a surgeon, which I personally found funny because there are a few writers out there that are surgeons who are also writers who also are pantsers.

Irony aside, surgical procedures are derived from what the surgeon is taught in school and is, recognized widely, as a methodical process requiring skill and practice using dexterity and spacial awareness, rather than a creative outlet of expression and storytelling.

Then the post talks about JK Rowling. Rowling is a plotter, therefore if you are a pantser you will never have her success.

Only, Stephen King is a pantser. Maybe I want to be Stephen King? He seems pretty successful to me.

Then there is the presented argument that pantsers just can't produce published works. Only, if you do a search on the internet on "pantser plotter writer" or "pantser author", you see many punished authors (with books I admire), are pantsers.

It took me all of two minutes to run a series of queries to find published writers who talk about plotting and pantsing on their own blog. This gives me the impression that most of the information presented in this blog post is anecdotal, and not associated with the world at large.

Finally, calling someone a loonie isn't very nice, but it's also a straw-man argument, refuted by the very patnser in the article itself. She didn't say that's all she had to do. She said she would start writing and let he characters tell the story, which is completely different than thinking it's a piece off cake.

Me? I've devised my own method of plotting that I really enjoy. But I've shaken hands with published authors who are pantsers at their book signing in Barnes and Nobel.

Plotting vs. Pantsing may be controversial, but perhaps reasoned discourse may be a better way to talk about it.

Amie Borst said...

I'm nearly finished reading The Housekeepers Son and it is a very well planned, thoughtfully crafted novel! Your plotting and planning paid off!

C. Michelle Jefferies said...

Christopher didn't say the bad slush was just by pansters, he said the bad slush had no plot.

To be honest I was a panster, I wrote horrible, no plot, messes of drivel before I learned story structure. For every query I sent out I recieved a "not for us" rejection. Not one partial or full or "you're on the right track" at all.

Once I learned srtucture which is a kind of happy medium between plotting and pansting. (More on the plotting side than pansting though.) I wrote a few amazing books and started getting full requests and finally a contract.

While I loved the freedom of pansting. I realised that I wanted to be published more than I wanted to just experience the thrill of writing and have become a structure girl with a contract and a book out in September.

I am also the mother of seven and one daughter-in-law. I don't have the time it takes to revise and rewrite a no-plot story into a story I'd feel is ready to submit. However, if you are a panster and can pants a plotted story that is worthy of publishing, please go for it and know I envy your skill.

In my opinion Christopher is right, most good books are plotted out before they're written. Or the pantsed one are revised heavily before they're ready.

Interesting post and discussion Christopher and Jen. Thanks.

Bookwormmama said...

I think we are confusing what "plotting" looks like. Christopher Loke may have said that in order to be published you must have a good plot, but he didn't spell out HOW or WHAT that looks like. I didn't hear him say you must do a formal outline, complete with roman numerals and everything. You can definitely do it Stephen King's way and spend the majority of your time on editing or you can do it Christopher's way and spend the majority of your time on pre- planning. Either way, you're going to end up with publishable material as long as you have a story that makes the reader care enough to want to read each page til the end.

Christopher Loke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christopher Loke said...

Thank you so much for your comments. There is really no right or wrong to how a writer works. It's about which method works better and which one doesn't. It's all about finding what works best for you. But also realize this, if you are seeking publication, then you'll have to work in a way that provides you with excellent results. There are so many manuscripts out there, why would an editor pick yours? That is one question you will have to answer.

Christopher Loke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christopher Loke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JoLynne Lyon said...

Chris, I like you but I disagree. I've read books that were over-plotted, where the author cared so much about moving the story around that his characters were doing things that didn't make sense. You have to balance both--and some people manage that best by throwing in a little flexibility.

sjp said...

I always start with a vague idea of the trajectory of my tale, but rarely draw out a detailed plotline or notes, characters usually know what they are doing. Pantser for life ;)

Meredith said...

I found this post to be quite judgemental and narrowminded. A good novel is a good novel regardless of whether it is plotted from beginning to end or written in a less structured way. The reader will likely not know the difference or care. I have two published novels (technically one is still in contact) and neither were fully plotted because I don't find the writing process as fun and yet I had two different editors offer me a contract. It is true that writing by the seat of one's pants might result in a novel that is all over the place but by the same token, I have read many books that seem so over plotted to the point that they are completely formulaic and stiff. A good novel is a good novel - period.

Elana Johnson said...

I pants. That's all there is to it. And I have internationally published books with Simon & Schuster. Christopher may not like them. He may think there's no plot, or no organization. It doesn't bother me if he does. What people like to read is subjective.

I have issues with the black and white-ness of the post, that's all. I think it's tricky to tell people what they do is "WRONG" is all caps, no less, or a "myth." I think there might have been a better way for him to get his point across without telling many authors that they're "WRONG."

It doesn't bother me; I've come to a stable, well-thought out way of writing that works for me. But the newbie-me? The one just starting out? This post would've devastated me. It's why it took me a year of experimentation to come to the method of writing I embrace now. Because everyone out there on the internet insisted that what I was doing was "WRONG."

Well, it's not. It just might not work for them. It might have disastrous results for them. It might make a book they don't like. But that doesn't mean it's "WRONG."

I suppose Christopher would die if I also told him that I don't write as a profession. This is a hobby for me. The money is a nice addition, but I write because I love it, not because it's my job.

Christopher Loke said...

Thank you for all of your comments. I respect all of them although some may not agree with me. There is no right or wrong way to writing a book. Pansters or plotters can churn up some very amazing books. As editor, it is my job to be judgmental. We judge every book by the plot, the writing, and the premise. Barnes and Noble judge every book by the publisher and its cover. We are, believe it or not, in the business of judging.

In a typical house, editors sometimes come across books that are amazingly written and have good premise, although the plot is lacking. In such cases, we would still acquire the book, after which the process of editing commences. This is when the editors work with the author to make the book a better book by instilling a solid and complete plot on the story. Whether or not you are a plotter, publishing houses, including ours, will always make sure that the book comes with a plot when it is ready to publish. In other words, you may be a panster, but in the end, the book will still be one with a solid plot. I believe in all good books and well-told stories regardless of how the writer writes.

My intention with the article was to trigger a healthy discussion, and not to put down anyone. If I did, I ask for your pardon. I was merely giving you a publisher's perspective, terse as it is. At least that was how we did things when I was editor for Houghton M. And as an imprint, we do the same at JFP. One example: Knopf at Random House took one year to perfect Paolini's bestseller. There was a plot, but there was no clear direction. So we made it better.

If I have offended anyone, I apologize. I have a great respect for all of you, aspiring writers and authors. I was asked to write on a subject, and I believed I picked a side that not many agreed with. In any way, keep writing. The world is always in need of great writers like you!