The Plotter, Pantsed


Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Photo by Dianna Sanchez

By Dianna Sanchez

Recently, I baked banana cookies. I was doing a series of posts on holiday recipes because my book, A Witch’s Kitchen, was #10 or 14 or 16 (it varied hour by hour) in Kindle children’s books about cooking, and I wanted to keep that momentum building. I had some nice overripe bananas, so I decided to bake cookies and take some photos to go with my post.

A funny thing happened. I typed up my abuela’s recipe, then I went downstairs to make the cookies. Except that I didn’t have any shortening. I kinda hate the stuff and rarely keep it in the house. Usually I substitute butter, but this seemed like the wrong solution for light, fluffy banana cookies. I sighed, made a list, and went shopping for shortening. At the store, I came across coconut oil, and I suddenly thought, That’s just the right consistency, it’s not hydrogenated, and it’s actually kinda healthy as fats go. So I brought it home and made the cookies with it, and they turned out stupendously yummy.

But wait, you’re saying. What does this have to do with writing?

Photo by Dianna Sanchez

This year, I had planned to participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I painstakingly plotted out my next novel, scene by scene. I spent long evenings worldbuilding with my husband the history buff. I read half a dozen reference books and reviewed my writing texts. On Nov. 1st, I sat down and started writing like the wind. By Nov. 4th, I already had over ten thousand words written.

And then the election happened, and I spent a day in utter shock. And then my immune system crashed, and I spent the rest of the month in bed with five different infections, unable to do much of anything except binge-watch TV series on Netflix. And in the middle of all this, I realized that I could not go on writing my protagonist as she was. I needed to seriously rethink my main character, at least one other character, and all the characters’ relationships.

I was despondent. All that work – 10,000 words! – down the drain. I would have to either seriously revise or just start over. But the more I thought about it, the more I found opportunities for opening up the plot. I could trim a lot of unnecessary framework, put my characters on a more equal footing, and retool the plot arc in a way that made much more sense. By switching from a single, tight POV to multiple POVs, I could give a more rich and detailed version of the events. That’s something I’ve never attempted before, and I’m both terrified and delighted by the prospect of taking it on.

Photo by Deborah Kruse, courtesy of Pixabay

In other words, I just got pantsed. My careful preparation had hemmed me in, but I don’t have to stick to the recipe. I can improvise, adjust, improve. Most of the plot remains the same, but the emphasis shifts, the characters expand, and the theme deepens throughout.

I’m a little glum that my plotting didn’t work out as smoothly as I’d hoped, but at the same time, I’m kinda glad. I like to dabble, to experiment, to substitute ingredients. From now on, I’ll treat my plot outlines more like… guidelines.

Quick plug: Do you know a young writer who loves science fiction? Dreaming Robot Press is launching the Young Explorers’ Logbook, a quarterly newsletter companion to their annual anthology series, the Young Explorers’ Adventure Guide. For the Logbook, they are accepting story submissions from writers no older than 14, and they pay $25/story. See the guidelines for further details.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s