Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I've Got a Theory: Character Pantsers

Generally speaking, we are each better at either plot, characters, or setting, right? (Click here to see a fun poll on whether plot, setting, or characters came first.) One of those three tends to come more easily to us. It's the thing that feels most real in the first draft. It's the thing that feels most clear to you as you're writing.

And although we're all somewhere in the middle, we each consider ourselves to be either a plotter or a pantser / discovery writer, right?

Here's where my theory comes into play. You ready?

Discovery writers (a.k.a. pantsers) tend to be strongest at writing characters.

I know that a lot of writers get a character (or characters) in mind, then plop them down somewhere in the middle of a situation and see what they'll do. Who wants to plot that? The fun is seeing how the character(s) react to the situation, and then see where it goes from there. It totally works!

On the other hand, you can't really plop a plot down amongst characters in a setting, and see what the plot does. You can't really plop a setting down amongst characters and a plot, and see what the setting does. Obviously both the plot and the setting is colored by everything and colors everything, but it's not the driving force.

So let's go about proving / disproving my theory, shall we? In the comments, tell me what you're strongest at (plot, setting, or character), and whether you're primarily a plotter or a pantser. (Or use whatever phrase you prefer to call it.) I'll start us out.

I'm a Setting / Plotter.

You?

31 comments:

JeffO said...

I'll say it loud, I'll say it proud, I'm a wingman, baby. And I think I am better with characters than plot. Interesting to me, though, is of two completed novels (can I call them that if they're unpublished?), one of them I came up with a character first, one I came up with a situation first.

Cristina said...

character/pantser... though I am trying plotting my next WIP, we shall see what happens :)

Bea Sempere (Denise Baer) said...

I would say that I'm more of a character (in so many ways), but my published book is plot. I wrote a dark, psychological suspense thriller and that has to be plot driven.

Where's my cookie?

Elizabeth Seckman said...

You're a genius! I never thought of that before, but you're right. My characters are organic (pantser) but the plot I need to map out. So, I am a mix. Like vodka and OJ.

Julie Luek said...

Thoughtful pantser. Is that a real category? With my current WIP, I thought up the story, and quickly on the heels of that, came up with the characters. Digging at the setting was more difficult.

I'll have whatever cookies Bea is having.

Richard said...

I'd have to call myself a discovery writer. Some combination of character/plot drives most of what I do. Setting is a necessity that I choose based on the above.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I think you nailed it. I'm a plotter and some comments I get about my writing is that my world-building and story is incredible but my characters could use more emotional connection. So yeah. I agree.

Chris van Soolen said...

I would have to agree with you, I started out with characters, threw them in a situation and then had to stop and do some worldbuilding/plotting. So I start off a pantser, then plot it out after I get about halfway through. Fun post :)

Ru said...

That's a really good theory and I totally agree with you. I'm strongest at characters, and trying really hard to break out of my pantsing habit because I think plotting is more efficient. But you're right, it is really tough to do that when you started with the characters to begin with.

S.P. Bowers said...

Character pantster. I'm proving you correct.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I'm in the middle. I plot the main 3 act points and am a panster for the rest. Plotting is my strong point and description the weakest.

Chihuahua Zero said...

I think I'm character-orientated, but I've outlined my last two novel projects. Short stories are pantsed.

Writer Chick said...

I've been a plotter ever since I read Larry Brooks' "Story Structure." And I start with an incident I know to be a plot point, just not which one ...

Taffy said...

Character, character, character. Yup. I'm a pantser.

Taffy said...

Character, character, character. Yup. I'm a pantser.

Taffy said...

Character, character, character. Yup. I'm a pantser.

Nancy Thompson said...

So hard to say. I'm not clearly defined. I use an outline, but that's really a first draft, so does that make me a plotter or a pantser? I think I'm better at plotting, but I put all my stock in the emotional arc of the characters. I must be half and half.

Patrick Stahl said...

I guess you could say that I consider plot first most of the time, as my ideas usually begin as premises. The characters are sometimes automatically tied into the premises. If they aren't, I go next to character and finally to setting. I lean toward discovery writing, although I do use basic outlines sometimes, especially for longer fiction.

Rebecca Barrow said...

You're definitely onto something! I'm a character/pantser gal. Although I have been working from an outline recently...but I still love my characters the best :)

Jenny S. Morris said...

This is a hard one. But I think I prove your theory. I'm not a complete panster. What term did you use? Discovery Writer? And I think my strongest point is characters. ;)

Jessie Humphries said...

I think I am strongest at plot and therefore am a plotter. I sort of suck at characterization! There I said it. But I gots to change that soon! Real friggin soon!

Charlie Holmberg said...

Does that mean outliners are better plotters? ;)

I have no idea what I am. I know my plotting had gotten a lot stronger with my last two books. I generally start with character, though I've always been better with side characters than main (ha!). Hopefully I'm fixing that now. I JUST WANT TO BE GOOD AT ALL OF THEM YOU KNOW.

Carrie Butler said...

I am a reformed pantser--proud to stand with the plotters, most days--but characters are my still my strength. Maybe.

I hope so! ;)

Kimberlee Turley said...

Plotter/panster. (I think I'm the outlier here for your analogy...)

For me, writing is more entertaining when I think about the external events that force the characters to make decisions that carry the plot forward.

I'm a pantser in this regard, because while I usually have an idea of where I want the story to go, mostly I'm sitting back and wondering "What else can go wrong that would make this more exciting?"

Annalisa Crawford said...

Pantser. As long as my characters have names they'll develop naturally.

For my NaNoWriMo project, the title came first. Then my subconscious went off and had a think, and came back with an explosion in a hotel and a man in a coma - but there are no characters yet. My subconscious mind does a lot more than I give it credit for :-)

Anne said...

I'm not sure, maybe a little of both. But maybe more of a plotter?

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

I think I'm probably a character/pantser... but my characters always need more, and the pantser thing isn't working out to well! I'm trying to learn some plotting!

Tara Tyler said...

i'm a total plotter, but my characters are good too! its setting that needs work for me...and conflict. i'm too nice to my characters!

bethchristopher.com said...

With my first MS, I pantsed with reckless abandoned. While it felt magical, I wrote myself into a corner and ended up having to ditch the antagonist altogether for a different one. It all turned out in the end, but took a LONG time.

With this MS, I'm trying to be a hybrid. I've loosely plotted the story, but am giving my characters license to run right off the track if necessary.

J.H.M. said...

Well, speaking as a shameless improviser that values character and atmosphere over plot and world-building...

Iain said...

I'm with you. I'm a plotter, and my characters suffer in the first draft because of it. I can see I'm doing it, but in order to get the story down I concentrate on the plot.
That's a brilliant theory btw :o)