Winging it or plotting it? Which is the right way to write?

I tend to fly by the seat of my pants when I write which, in writing terms, defines me as a ‘pantser’. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the plotters, who piece together every part of the story before they sit down to write. They know where they’re headed from the outset because their plot is so tightly knit.  

Of late I’ve been forced to consider the wisdom, or lack thereof, of winging it. 

Here are two reasons why:

I’m reading the most amazing novel, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. You’ve probably heard of it. It was a ‘#1 International Bestseller’ a couple of years back.

The plot of The Book Thief is so complex and intricate that I can’t imagine Zusak writing the story without some serious plotting beforehand. 

Maybe you’ve read it? If so, you’ll know the story is primarily set in a small town in Nazi Germany and starts prior to WWII. The main protaganist is a young German girl Leisel Meminger. But the story is narrated by Death, who coolly observes Leisl’s journey. I’m only halfway through the book, and Leisel is 11 years old, so I don’t know when, how, why or where her journey ends.  

Zusak will sometimes have Death leap into the future in his narration (I reckon Death is a bloke), so the reader learns of a catastrophic event that has not yet happened. This sounds like a cop out, and Death even admits that, but it has the effect of making the reader more anxious about the inevitable. It’s just soooo clever.

Death also takes the reader back in time – of course this is to give backstory – but it is so elegantly woven into the text that I can’t imagine Zusak cutting and pasting anything in the rewrites.

Maybe I’m wrong.    

The other reason I think I might have to get serious about detailed plotting comes from American scriptwriting guru John Truby. He’s a fan of plotting and believes many scriptwriters fail because by the time they get to around 30 pages, their story has lost impetus becuase the flimsy plot has faltered. He says a lack of plotting is responsible for writer’s block.

Truby writes: ‘Plot is the sequence of events by which the hero tries to defeat the opponent and reach the goal.’

I just admit that I’ve been caught out with my current wip because I’ve lost direction. And that does have something to do with lazy plotting.

Back to the drawing board. Again.


2 responses to “Winging it or plotting it? Which is the right way to write?

  1. I think you need to have some sort of plotting – doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. When you are published (note the WHEN, Shayne) you have to send in a synopsis for approval – before writing the story. To write the dreaded S you have to have some level of plotting done.

    Might as well start now 😉

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