River Valley Writer’s Workshop, Canadian, Texas
Sponsored by the Canadian Arts Alliance and Texas High Plains Writers, we had a good mix of brand-new newbie writers to multi-published hybrid authors in April. In addition to local writers, I met people from Lubbock, Shamrock, Abilene, and San Antonio. This was the first ever workshop sponsored by the Canadian Arts Alliance.
One of the most interesting talks that really made an impression on me, was by young adult fantasy author, Kathleen Baldwin. She talked about the differences between two writing methods: pantsers vs. plotters.
Pantsers vs. Plotters
If you’ve been writing for a while, these terms are probably familiar to you. In case these terms are new to you, I will clarify the difference.
Plotters plot.Plotters work in a more controlled creative process than pantsers. Some begin with an outline, scene diagram, timeline, or even a lengthy book bible with character profiles and meticulous setting details. Some have visual storyboards with a guideline for which chapters they will work on that day, or a chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene outline posted on a wall. They usually know the ending and take their characters on a journey to that point.
Pantsers Wing It.They are in the zone, writing and creating and following their characters where ever they go. They might begin with a great character or no more than a seed of an idea for a first sentence, or descriptive imagery for a unique setting, and then they’re off. The story takes over and they don’t stop to research or question why, they just keep going to the end with a complete book.
The Secret Life of Pantsers
The session in Canadian was nothing like I had ever heard before regarding the pantser vs. plotter method. Kathleen introduced us to our creative brain. We took an interesting quiz to determine if we lean more towards being a pantser or a plotter. Our personalities have a lot to do with influencing our creative process.
Pantserslove adventure and not knowing where their characters will take them. If they know the ending, they are bored. A pantser plots on the fly, relies on their subconscious creative mind or even on their dreams.
Plotters are brilliant planners who like working from outlines. They rely on the power of conscious creation, and usually like structure and order in their lives.
Studies have shown that there are just as many bestselling authors who are pantsers as plotters.
The main point of her talk is to know your brain. How can you maintain balance in your life? How do you minimize stress? One way is to write at the same time every day because we are wired to respond to habit/repetitive behaviors. When are you the most creative? Your creative mind blossoms when you reward it for brilliance. Give yourself emotional strokes for your creative accomplishments.
Try these Magic tricks for your brain: aim for ten ideas, state the most obvious and then state the opposite of that. For example, If Buffy the Vampire Slayer is walking through a graveyard at midnight she might see: a vampire jumping out and attacking her. The opposite of that might be; a happy clown pops out of the headstone. The second idea is very different, but too weird and doesn’t work for the story. List five or more opposite ideas, but less obvious. What works best? 1) An old lady sits in a rocker, knitting. 2) Buffy’s dead mother floats up singing a ghostly warning. 3)Buffy finds a baby sleeping. 4) Maybe the baby is a toddler, and it looks like Spike. 5) Little vampire Spike is trapped in a time warp, and is crying, lost, alone, hungry. Does this idea make sense for your story, characters and theme?
I have several friends who are pantsers and their stories are amazing. I felt very frustrated when trying to understand their writing method and put it to practice. My day job involves numbers and deadlines, and now I understand that my brain likes that sort of structure. I like having an outline for my story and realized that I don’t feel ready to write until the story has come together in my brain. I usually know the ending. It’s at that point that inspiration strikes and I am able to put words on a page, which is the exact opposite from the pantser method. After taking Kathleen’s quiz I discovered that I exhibit qualities of both processes, which might explain my hyper, squirrel-chasing work habits. I can never settle on one project. There are too many things going on in my head at once.
What about you? What process makes you feel the most creative?
It was a great weekend of inspiration to learn story craft, eat some great food, and meet some awesome creatives. If you ever have the chance to visit the beautiful town of Canadian in the Texas Panhandle, stop in at the Stumbling Goat Saloon for a burger and a beer, or The Cattle Exchange for a steak. So many other great places to dine along with unique boutiques for shopping. A must is The Citadelle Foundation which houses an amazing art collection.