Grace's Mosaic Moments

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Controversy Gone Amuck

Before today's blog - a Python Update

A Univ. of Florida pic, scanned from The Orlando Sentinel

  From The Orlando Sentinel, May 21, 2013:

"A record-setting Burmese python was killed with a knife in a rural section of southern Miami-Dade County, after a long struggle in which it wrapped itself around a man's legs. The monster snake was 18 feet, eight inches long, beating the previous Florida record by more than a foot, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission."

Summary of the remainder of the article:  Jason Leon, 23, of Palmetto Bay and friends were riding all-terrain vehicles near Florida City when one of them spotted the snake sticking out of a bush. Leon, who used to have a pet python, grabbed the snake behind the head, a friend handed him a knife, and he ended up wrestling the 128-pound snake, which wrapped itself around both legs and one of his arms. He reports he wasn't scared as he had two friends to back him up. After a 10-minute struggle, he cut the snake's head off. Although Jason donated the snake to the state, he hopes to retain the skin after the university's analysis is done. He plans to mount it on the wall.

Added May 26: Last night's TV news reported that the state has returned the skin to Jason.

Grace note:  If he marries, I wonder what his bride will think about that!

~ * ~

The Controversy That Should not Exist

I'm still trying to figure out how different approaches to writing became a controversy. Until recently, I didn't think they had. There are all sorts of approaches to writing, each valid for the person involved. Two of the most common are generally referred to as: "Plotter" and "Pantser." I dislike both expressions, but for the sake of familiarity will use them in this article. Any alternatives* I came up with were as skewed to one side as the terms we already have. Skewed? Yes, skewed, because naming one side “Plotters” implies that “Pantsers” don’t plot. And that’s absurd. Of course we plot - we just do it in our heads or in random scribbled notes, not set down in page after page of precise outlines. Below, to the best of my ability, is a brief description of how I first discovered these differences, what the differences are, and why they have suddenly become a bone of contention.

*See Addendum below

At my very first RWA national conference - Orlando sometime in the mid 90s - I attended a workshop held in someone's hotel room. It was sponsored by RWA's Kiss of Death Mystery/Suspense chapter. There were several authors on the panel. I remember only Tami Hoag on the Pantser side and Ruth Glick (Ruth York) on the Plotter side. Frankly, I'd never thought about my writing style before. I simply did it. But I instantly recognized kinship with Tami, who told about simply sitting down and writing, plus the number of times she went through her manuscript, each time adding more description, more color, etc. (She may be the first person I heard use the expression "out of the mist.") Ruth represented the approach needed by Harlequin authors, which requires a great deal more work "up front" before one starts to write.

If you are one of those who has escaped hearing about Plotters versus Pantsers, let me explain. I heard a good example of a Plotter recently. A Harlequin author stated she wrote a 30-page outline for a 50,000-word book! She also had photos, research, and a zillion other details all neatly organized in a 4" binder. Great, particularly if you write for Harlequin/Silhouette. And if that’s the method that works for you.

A Pantser, however, gets the name from the early airplane expression - “flying by the seat of his/her pants.” I prefer to say I write “out of the mist.” Pantsers undoubtedly approach a book from all 360° of the compass. Which is good, as we’re all individuals, right? For me, it’s necessary to have a Title, the names of my major characters, some idea of who my characters are, and where the story is going before I start. But that’s it. Nothing but names written down - all the rest is in my head. As my characters develop, I scribble notes of what the next scene might be; but quite often, when I begin the scene, it goes in a different direction than I intended. (Always an improvement, I might add.) By the time I’ve finished, say, five chapters, I might have a stack of legal pad scribbles, reminding me of everything from ignored physical descriptions to a plot point I want to elaborate on. And in editing I do exactly that. Perhaps three or four more times before the book is done. This is how I work and I truly enjoy the spontaneity of it.

And there’s the rub, the reason for today's blog. There are as many ways to approach the writing of a book as there are authors. Until recently, I never considered the old Plotter vs. Pantser argument anything more than theoretical. Some authors plan their manuscripts with all the detail of an architect rendering a skyscraper, and some of us approach writing more like a modern artist creating a free-form painting. A matter of personality, which should not be a controversial issue. But this spring I encountered an attitude of Plotters attempting to tell Pantsers, “It’s my way or the highway.” Which forced me to rise up and say, “You’ve got to be kidding.” We are what we are. We do what we have to do to write the kinds of books we want to write.

Yes, it's wrong not to edit, not to polish your work. Yes, it's wrong not to be professional in your attitude about writing. Yes, it's wrong to present a manuscript full of errors in grammar and punctuation. But the method you use to write your book? That's yours, baby. All yours. If you want to stand on your head and dictate into a machine, that's your choice. It's only the finished product that becomes an editor's, agent's, or reader's business. Until then, you write that book any @#$% way that works for you. But, please, remember not to act as if other people's methods simply won't work.

Why this controversy exploded into rancor is hard to pin down, but I tend to think it's due to the elephant in the room, the huge influence the giant publishing house Harlequin/Silhouette inevitably has on the Romance Writers of America. (You noticed RWA's recent tightening of the rules, right? The emphasis on Romance, just Romance.) In my not-so-humble opinion, H/S has a right to demand lengthy detailed synopses from its authors, but its influence should not extend to a writers' organization which encompasses authors who write an almost endless variety of romance sub-genres. Authors deserve the freedom to create in any manner they deem fit and not necessarily in the manner advocated by Harlequin/Silhouette.

So there it is. I've found myself up to my neck in controversy again. Didn't plan on this one, just defending my territory, so to speak. I'd love to hear the opinions of other authors on this one.


While attempting to find alternatives for the ugly and misleading terms, "Pantser" and "Plotter," I came up with a bunch. But quickly realized they are as misleading (and/or insulting) as what I was trying to replace. But here they are:

Plan Ahead vs Out of the Mist  (the most benign alternative)
Fettered vs Free
Crafting vs Creating
Deliberate vs Spontaneous
Craft vs Art

Hopefully, these terms give you an idea of how difficult it is to "label" any one style of writing. We should each develop a method that works for us and accept that we are all different. I strongly suggest none of us should stoop to making negative remarks about the other person's approach to writing.

Blair's Free Book Schedule on Amazon Kindle

Limbo Man (the Russians are coming)                      Tuesday, May 28

Orange Blossoms & Mayhem (marriage & murder)      Tuesday, June 4 
For covers and blurbs of the books above, click here.

Thanks for stopping by.



  1. Grace, it's because of the attitude of some plotters that I developed a workshop (with Patti Berg) called NO PLOTTERS ALLOWED -- Solutions to writer's block for those who can't, won't or don't plot. It's more a motivational workshop about how there is no one right way to write, the RIGHT way is any way that gets your story down on paper.

    I hate the term "pantser." I use organic writer. :)

    I never plot. Never. I've tried and failed. I start with a premise and at least one character and go from there. I've written 22 books and over a dozen short stories this way.

  2. I never heard of either of these terms before I started getting involved in forums and such. Honestly, I don't like the idea of labeling or of "right" or "wrong" ways to write--that's like saying there's a right or wrong way to take care of your home and family. If everyone's happy and healthy, who cares how they got there? Same with writing--if the book gets published, who cares how it got written?

    Now, I'll be honest and tell you that there are some things I like about plotting; others make my eyeballs flip around in my head like window-shades pulled down too far and released too quickly.

    I start with an idea, or a character who comes whispering in my ear and, like my youngest child, simply won't leave me alone until they get what they want. I have to know my main characters' names and a small bit of background, but I usually don't write the background down. I write scenes as they come to me, and bits of dialogue. Sometimes I get really organized and make a rough timeline or a vocab sheet. Occasionally, I know how the story ends, but not how they get there.

    There are some things "plotters" do that I would love to incorporate, but know I never will. I'm just not that organized, in any aspect of my life. It's like my fantasy of being Sally Homemaker, with every part of my house running like a well-oiled Marine--er, machine; I know it'll never happen, so I enjoy my chaos. :-)

    And I know that one day--Lord willing and the creek don't rise--I will be published, and not just once. It might take me a little longer, but I'd never give up my chaos in exchange.

  3. Thanks, Allison & Lynne, for your thoughtful comments. And, Lynne, your method sounds perfectly sensible, undoubtedly right for you. Except - accept yourself for what you are, more "out of the mist" than someone who has to have everything down on paper before they begin. For example, I can't even imagine binding my imagination by choosing actual photos as a base for my characters. And yet for some people it works very well. Be yourself, and don't let others tell you their method is right and yours is wrong. Hang in there, and I'm sure you'll find your way to publication.

    1. Thanks for the words of encouragement, Grace. I actually DO work best with a photo or two, though. Probably from writing fan fiction and having tons of photos of the hero and their world. Now, as to sitting down and figuring out the politics and sociology and such--nah, ain't gonna happen. :-)

      I respect everyone who finishes a coherent novel, no matter their method. It ain't as easy as my daydreams...