I admit it — the title was an attempt to be cute to grab your attention. Anyway, tonight’s title matchup is: do you plot when you write, or do you start writing and see what happens?
In the red corner, we have The Plotter: he lays out his entire story before putting virtual pen to paper. He believes thou shalt describe everything in excruciating detail from your characters to your opening to your conclusion because thou wantest not to lie in endless fields of rewriting and thou wantest total control over thine story lest it begin to wander into the land of the Philistines and above all, thou hatest surprises and thou doesn’t want thine reader to be surprised either.
In the blue corner, we have The Plodder: he pulls an idea from the ether and starts writing. Characters form as the story plods along. The plot plods along. Nay, plot germinates from the idea. It blossoms into a story fertilized by the author’s imagination and copious lattes. It explodes into a glorious climax before gently falling back to earth to seed the next idea. The author snores contentedly while the reader smokes a cigarette.
I think my blue bias has leaked through somewhat. Plus these views are overly simplistic, naturally. I don’t think any writer fully sits in the red or the blue corner.
Anyway, people often speculate, which method is better? I have my own thoughts on the subject.
All the books on writing that I read in my formative years said to outline everything ahead of time. For me, that kills interest in the story. I just want to friggin’ write, man. I always figured I was doing it wrong. Then I read Stephen King’s On Writing and it was such a relief. Turns out, King (my hero) doesn’t plot either.
Plodding does require extra rewriting, I admit. Sometimes I wander a bit. Sometimes I have to discard entire pages that aren’t working, but I’m okay with this. I don’t mind editing myself, and no writing is ever wasted. If a scene doesn’t work, I save it in a slush document for possible use later. Yay computers.
I do Plot a little bit. I create character sketches and interviews before I start. While I’m gaily tapping away, I generally know what the climax of the current set-piece will be, and I have a pretty good idea how the story will end. It’s like hiking through the mountains — I can see the next signpost, and I can see the peak where I want to be by suppertime, but I don’t yet know which path I’ll take to get there.
I’m the first audience for my stories. I write them because I like reading them. That’s my motivation for writing in the first place. I’m telling myself a story, and I can’t wait to see how it spins out. I don’t want to spoil my own surprise.
Plus if it’s a surprise to me, it should be a surprise to my reader.
What it comes down to is, I can’t write any other way than I do. I have tried.
I feel I should wrap this up in a general conclusion: whatever works for you, that is what you should do. No one is going to know whether you Plotted or Plodded if the story is good.
If the story sucks, try the other corner.
What about you? Are you a Plotter or a Plodder?