What is the essence of a story? What element of a story is most important to focus on as a writer? What method do you use to reach that “real” story? Recently there was an article on Writer Unboxed called “Here’s What Both Pantsing and Plotting Miss: The Real Story,” and it intrigued me. For those of you who don’t know, “pantsers” and “plotters” are two different types of writers. “Pantsers” are those writers who fly by the seat of their pants and just start writing without plotting at all. “Plotters,” as you may be able to guess, are the writers who plot out their story before writing a word.
In this article, Lisa Cron suggests that both of these types of writers are missing something essential about the writing process and about their story. Cron says, “Both Pantsing and Plotting, by definition, bypass the key element around which a story is built. It’s the element that drives every story forward, which is why both methods often yield manuscripts that are primarily just a bunch of things that happen, rather than an actual story. It’s a big part of why agents reject 99% of submissions, and why most self-published novels sell fewer than 100 copies, and it’s simply this: your protagonist’s inner issue, her inner agenda, and the story-driven evolution of her internal belief system, is where the real story lives.”
Cron says that there is a “third rail” to every story, which falls outside the blind creativity of pantsers and the over-organization of plotters. This third rail is your character’s inner agenda. What does she want? What is he striving for? That inner struggle and inner desires are the heart of your story. Those things –allegedly — are what will make your story interesting, and will make readers keep reading. Those things may not come through the blind discovery writing of a pantser or the more strict, methodical writing of a plotter.
I understand what Cron is saying in the above quote, and in her article in general. By placing importance on a meticulous plot or simply having fun in your writing, you may be missing out on something else. I agree that the character’s inner desires are important, because I most enjoy reading and watching character-driven stories. But I don’t think that’s cause to discount either pantsing or plotting.
Both of these writing methods can be helpful to writers, and they can both be good jumping-off points from which to begin. Some writers need that method to begin with and then, once they get going, can either add some more plotting or be a bit freer with their discoveries when writing. I think a mix of the two methods would be ideal.
What do you think? Which type of writing do you most often practice? Check out the original article and let us know what you think!
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan