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Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Puzzler

It seems like, this past year, my writing group can't go more than four weeks without a conversation weighing the merits of plotting versus pantsing. Mostly it becomes an entrenched discussion, where each side spouts the merits and their reasons for their chosen alignment. Recently I've decided to stick with "it's a spectrum; all pantsed novels will contain parts that were plotted, and all plotted novels have parts that were pantsed". And as far as analogies go, that's the best as I can do.

Me, I identify as more of a plotter, but the term wasn't quite satisfactory, even though when forced to choose, that's the side I'd fight for. On previous occasions when I've tried to describe my particular outlining process, I've explained it as "a sort of messy cross-stitch", because of how my thoughts jump around. That didn't quite feel right either, but the fact is, my thoughts aren't entirely linear.

Then on Friday, I read a post by author David B. Coe (one of the Magical Words gang) at, about how he completes novels. This is how he describes it:
"... a book sometimes feels like a puzzle.  I start with the outline, or, to work within the metaphor, with the border pieces.  I set aside the internal pieces until later, and just get that broad exterior in place.  Once that’s done, once I have some sense of what the puzzle is going to look like, I start to fill in the middle."
He goes into more detail after that, and I highly recommend you read what he has to say in its entirety, but that's the main gist of it.

I read the post. Then I read it again. As it sank in, the shades of gray that the plotter/pantser spectrum represented fell away, and the mental image of a gorgeous magical garden sprang to mind. That, I realized, is exactly how I craft a story. I have an idea of what the final image will look like, and I've filled in the edges and corners and parts of the middle, but the rest of it comes to me in bits and pieces, and often I have to go back and figure out exactly where a piece fits.

Even Coe admits that the metaphor is imperfect, but for me, it's the best way to describe it so far. I'm not a plotter. I'm not a pantser. I'm a puzzler.

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