Plotting By the
Seat of Your Pants

17 May 2021

Laying out the plot of a novel scene by scene. Brian Koberlein
Laying out the plot of a novel scene by scene.

In my copious spare time, I’ve started work on a novel. It’s rather slow going, in part because I’ve never written a novel. I’ve written novellas and short stories, and the usual nonfiction book and research papers, but never a full novel. But how hard could it be?

Pretty hard, it turns out.

Of course, there’s plenty of writing advice out there. So much that you could read about writing a book for the rest of your life. But most of the advice falls into two camps: plotters and pantsers. Plotters lay out a fairly complete plot, then write scenes as needed. Pantsers write scenes without a solid idea of where the story might go. Writing by the seat of their pants, as it were. Both have advantages. With a plot in mind, you can make sure that you won’t write yourself into a hole you can’t write out of. And by pantsing you can let the muse take you to unexpected places.

Of the two camps, I tend to be more of a pantser. With short stories, I typically start writing with no real idea of where it might lead. The same with blog posts, since they don’t need a plot. But I’ve found, pantsing doesn’t work well when I’m trying to write a novel. The muse brings characters, but they have little to do. And plotting doesn’t work well for me either. It’s hard to lay out a plot when you don’t yet know how your characters will behave. So I find myself doing a mix of both. Plot a bit, pants a bit, back and forth, seeing how it goes. Time will tell if it leads to an actual novel, but so far it seems to be working.

Now if I can only stop avoiding writing by writing silly blog posts…