This past Wednesday, I wrote a journal entry about the misadventures I experienced with my first attempt at writing a novel. I don’t even think the term pantser was around back then, but that was exactly what I was doing. I’m not saying I was some sort of trailblazer when it came to winging it, but I can say with great certainty that I was definitely not good at it.
Pantsers, in my opinion, have some unearthly gift at just making it up as they go. I believe they have some vague idea as to what it is they’re going to write, but they don’t worry themselves with any sort of plan for the overall work. It’s almost as if they just lie there on their backs, plucking pretty words out of the ether.
But as it turns out, I have a bit of anxiety when it comes to things like that. I can’t just fly blind into the foggy landscape of my own mind, for fear of crashing into some crazy story element with no way of writing myself out. Just the thought brings back the memories of those early days.
I have a lot of respect for the pantsers in the writing community, but plotting is for me. And I tried many different ways and methods of plotting, some worked and others didn’t–it was all trial and error. In the end, I use a sort of hybrid of a few methods.
To be frank, I use Scrivener. For those unfamiliar with the program, Scrivener is a word processor that comes with some special features that are good for anyone writing a book, a script, or any other creative project. I won’t go into great detail about the program itself, but only highlight the features I use for plotting my books.
The layout itself is like a cork board, which is something I’ve tried in the past. You can create your new scenes there on the virtual corkboard, each represented by a virtual note card. This is great for giving yourself little notes about the scene, and little titles. And the best part about these note cards is that you can move them around, thus moving the scenes around, shuffling them into place.
You can also use their templates to create character sketches and setting sketches. These are great for keeping track of details for people and places, so you don’t end up with some continuity error later on. You can even have a folder for your research, even saving pictures and links there to help you keep any research organized. To be honest, I don’t use that feature, though I probably should. I end up doing more research for my books, about some of the weirdest things, than I ever dreamed I would.
But I use Scrivener more than anything else. It helps to keep my writing organized and my notes safe and visible whenever I need them. And Scrivener isn’t the only program out there like this. There are dozens like it. I only chose Scrivener because it came recommended to me.
I use to keep a physical corkboard with notes pinned to it. And that method was great for a while. But my corkboard was never big enough for all my notes and research. Scrivener just kind of replaced it.
I do, however, still have a large dry erase board on my wall. I use it to create my overall story plot, mapping it out like a rollercoaster. I jot little notes, points in the plot where the action ebbs and flows, slowly rising to the climax. This helps me to visually see the flow of the story, and I can spot possible holes.
So I kind of straddle the virtual and real worlds when it comes to my plotting; one foot in my computer, and one on the wall of my office. This is the method/methods that work for me, though it won’t work for everyone. But the different ways we plot our stories and tools we use to do so are some of the most shared things between writers–second only to kitten memes and pictures of caffeinated beverages.
Until Next Time: Trial and Error is our greatest tool for everything, and plotting is no exception. Try different things, and don’t be afraid to mix and match your methods and tools. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to writing.