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Enzo Stephens: Planning Vs. Pantsing, Part Isa

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Part “Isa” and Part “Dalawa” are Tagalog for 1 & 2 respectively.

Planning Vs. Pantsing, Part Isa

By Enzo Stephens

Those in the writing community know what these two topics are/mean, but for those of you who are not or who are considering dipping your toes in the water, these two topics — Planning and ‘Pantsing’ refer to a writer’s approach to their craft.

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to refrain from using the single-quotes on Pantsing. We all get it.

I think the way to approach this is to break each method of approach down; discuss pros and cons. By no means are my lists or dissertation intended to be comprehensive. I’m just not smart enough to be able to include everything, so if you can think of anything I miss, by all means, feel free to comment away.

It’s interesting to me how surprisingly adamant some writers are about which method they prefer. The reason why is because it seems situational to me. 

When I work on a full-length novel or even a series of novellas, I absolutely have to use the planning method.

But I’ve recently discovered that there is joy in the pantsing approach. 

Okay, permit me to share-eth my (somewhat colorful) thoughts on the planning approach and why it works for me.

Sucky Memory

I’m sure there are more eloquent ways to say that my memory sometimes feels like a black hole that originates from my frontal cortex, but that’s the truth of the matter, and I’m positive that I’m not the only one with this problem.

A plan is one way to compensate. Let me ’splain…

We’ve all read a GOOD novel, and I’m sure most of us can clearly state why the novel was good. Excellent plot, strong character development, great subplots, dialogue, and character interaction was outstanding, tremendous scene-setting, and so on.

I venture to say that what makes it GOOD is simply… pause for dramatic effect… continuity.

Plots and subplots need to make sense and they need to drive through to a reasonable conclusion. Same with characters. And, the entire work takes on its own pace, building to a crescendo that — if it’s really good, makes for a page-turner.

You know what I’m talking about. That’s what The Shining was for me. I could not get enough of that beast, and it’s the most re-read book in my entire collection.

Now, for as many GOOD novels read, I dare say we’ve read at least twice as many BAD novels.

What makes it a BAD novel?

Well, it’s the inverse of all the stuff I said that makes for a GOOD novel. A bad novel just crushes continuity and pace because it’s just so damned distracting.

Plot holes, total character missteps, aspects that just seem unreasonable / not thought out or not researched; you get the idea. 

My first works — way back when an IBM Selectric was my go-to, utterly sucked. Sure, I’d knock out a scene or two, but good Lord, what a mess they were.

Didn’t take me long to figure out that I ended up spending all my time going back and correcting/revising earlier work just to maintain continuity, and not enough time allowing my creativity freedom (my Muse is still swift-kicking me in the nuts over this I believe — demanding wench!).

Okay, time for a quickie backstory. Not only am I a crazed ex-Marine with over 50 years of hand-to-hand combat experience, but I also have over 30 years’ experience in Information Technology. Ergo, the tools that would help me to elevate my writing hove into view.

In short, planning tools.

All because my memory sucks and I can’t keep details straight. But only when I’m writing them, not reading them. Makes me feel hypocritical in some odd way. Like, what right do I have to criticize someone else’s writing when mine’s just as bad (if not worse)?

Data Flow Diagram

This is a good one for laying out the overreaching plot outline, and then subplot constructs and directions. There’s a definitive beginning and end, and critical milestones to get from one end to the other. 

This is typically one of my first tools that comes into play when creating a novel or a series (shorts, novellas or full-blown works).

There’s a lot of freebie versions of Data Flow Diagrams that can be found via standard Google search. 

Character Matrix

This is one of the most underrated and underused tools I’ve ever seen, but man-oh-man has it been a lifesaver in my writing. 

Mine is home-grown and it’s 9-10 pages of 8-point font extensive. It covers everything about a person that can be imagined — personal stats, usual likes and dislikes, background, jobs, churches, organizational affiliations, relationships past and present and desired. Religion, politics, positions of social issues; personality disorders; strengths and talents; special abilities… the list goes on and on. 

I use this when I’m creating my Main Character, and I use scaled-down versions for other characters; the less impact to the story, the less of a CM I use.

Again, there are variations of this via standard Google search if you’re so inclined to be tightly wound when applying your creative process. That’s a joke.

Decision Tree

So, what happens if Uncle Bob decides to hack his weenie off with a linoleum knife in a fit of pique over his recalcitrant kiddies because they’re such jerks? How does that crazy act impact the subplot, the overall plot, sub-finishes, and so on?

Out comes the Decision Tree

I love this because it really gives me the chance to explore actions and reactions of a character given a specific situation, and then really build on that. From some of the steps involved, I’m able to impart serious suspense when it’s time to write the scene, story, whatever. And when I’ve got a novel done — say 100k words, I’ve probably got 100 pages of decision trees. 

All that is cool, but here’s the neat side benefit of using decision trees: no longer fretting over word count. I have knocked out tens of thousands of words just rolling through one branch of a decision tree. This device is outstanding for me.

You won’t really need to go chase down some Decision Tree template; you can make your own quite well.

The Bottom Line

Okay, so it goes without saying (but I’m gonna say it anyway) that writing a book is a pretty significant undertaking. 

I consider it a project, much like the development and delivery of a suite of software to a client. There is a definitive start and end point. There is up-front work; development work; testing; then implementation. There are milestones and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Behind all of it is a Plan, and what drives the plan is its flexibility and the tools that make planning easier and more effective.

Pantsers, there’s a lot to be said for planning!

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Planning vs. Pantsing, Part Dalawa.
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Author Bio:

Enzo Stephens has a serious case of professional ADHD.  He’s a professional writer with over 60 novels ghosted and several under his own name.  He’s an active blogger and has fallen in love with knocking out short stories.
Enzo is a retired Marine and a martial arts instructor for longer than most people have been alive, and his cats, wife, and kids merely tolerate his nonsense.

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For more of Enzo’s writing visit him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Enzo.stephens.5011 or check out the monthly archives here on the WU! blog.

( Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)