The One About… Plot versus Pants

Every year in November, I participate in an excellent literary exercise called NaNoWriMo – a shorthand term for Nation Novel Writing Month. This event, the brainchild of an undoubtedly liberal and therefore subversive organization out of Berkeley, CA that calls itself the Office of Letters and Light, seeks to promote literacy by challenging writers to write, well, A NOVEL – or a goodly chunk of one – in 30 days. 50,000 words, from 12:01 a.m. on November 1 through 11:59 p.m on November 30.

I’ve done this five times now. My first WriMo in 2011, I was a little fuzzy on the rules. You see, I thought you actually had to write a NOVEL  – not a goodly chunk, but an actual, finished story. So I did. 86,152 words in 27 days. That eventually turned into the first TRIANGLE novel. Steve and Amy are Nano babies (but don’t tell them).

Since then, I’ve done three others successfully, one not so much. Triangle Tarot started as a Nano book before it got destroyed – twice – and had to restart. I have an epic fantasy that will probably be my next project post Triangle that was my 2015 Nano winner – but it needs to marinate a bit.

But here’s the thing. My 2016 Nano winner was the first draft of the next Triangle novel, Triangle:Zodiac. I was able to complete 50,000 words with relative ease. But here’s where those funny terms in the title come in.

Nano always has a bunch of online “prep” videos and workshops for writers. A lot deal with finding what works for you as a writer regarding the process of writing. Inevitably, the question comes up – are you a plotter, or are you a pantser? Do you, as a writer, meticulously plan out and research every scene, every interaction, in advance, or do you just let the interactions fly and have inspiration strike like lightning.

I will admit I’m a pantser when starting a novel. I like to let the characters tell me their story, lead me down the path. Sometimes, it’s in a direction I completely don’t expect. Because the manuscript for my second novel was destroyed by lightning, I had to rewrite it from scratch, with just a few notes. It turned out to have a huge change – my main character’s twin wasn’t an ally, but her enemy. I didn’t expect that revelation, but once I discovered it, it added incredible energy to the story.

Now I am deep into writing Zodiac. This one ties up many story threads. Because it’s more of a tapestry than the previous two, it is forcing me to do something – be a plotter. I have to design the scenes and how they will play out, so I can see how threads from earlier novels and stories tie into and finally pay off in this book. It’s like engineering with words and story structure. There’s a part of me that is enjoying the process, and yet a part of me resents it because it is process.

A little voice is beating against the bars saying, “Writing should be free!” I may have to run a parallel project just to keep that satisfied. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That means the muse is working, feeding me ideas. The imagination is active. And I never know what idea may come along to help even the plotter… something that may mean rearranging all those carefully placed index cards.

I can hardly wait for the morning to find out.

About D. G. Speirs

D.G. Speirs is a storyteller, novelist and voice actor living in Florida. He keeps searching for better stories to tell, even if he has to make them up himself. His latest novel, THE AGENCY, is now available on
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