A Writer’s View: Plotting, Pantsing, And Agile

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

So this week I finished the plot outline of my book. I’ve been expanding it iteratively, from one-sentence summaries to full character profiles, based on the Snowflake method. The method itself works great with Agile – and brings up a very important point about writing.

Writing, it is said, is often divided into “pantsers” (seat-of-my-pants writers) and “plotters (organized writers like yours truly). As a plotter, I’d like to note that you do end up “pantsing” anyway, just on a finer-grained level. At some point in writing you can only plan so much before you have to write – it’s a matter of degree.

This truth can frustrate some plotters, because you can only define so much before there’s nothing left to do. Your ideas may be totally wrong, your plan may be horrible, your plot awful – but you won’t know until you start writing.

This is the same thing one faces in software, where Agile methods continue to hold more and more sway – you can only design so much before you have to write code to see if it works. It’s the same with writing.

So now that I have a plot, how will I confront my inevitable discovery of all my horrible mistakes?

First, I won’t be afraid. As I like to note, Eat Your Failure.

Secondly, I plan to do reviews:

  1. I will write a chapter at a time and share it with people for feedback.
  2. I will review my full plot outline every chapter completed to make notes and see what changed or what I want to modify or what I want to add.

I know my plot outline (all 8 pages in a spreadsheet) is only so good. But it’s good enough to get moving with an idea of where I’m going, and good enough to improve when I find mistakes or get new ideas. It also is stable enough that it probably won’t fall apart and deep enough it’s not shallow.

Two notes:

  1. I have trouble seeing how “pantsing” can work for complex stories, but perhaps I have something to learn there, no? Maybe I should “pants” a short story sometime.
  2. Based on my own experiences and what I’ve seen in the market you can in theory plot a novel pretty finely, and its very easy if you’re using tropes or taking a “light” approach. Not sure how good it’d be, but it seems doable.So what have you found?

(Oh and if you need some other creative boosts, check out my book on Creative Paths!)

– Steve