An implied question on the 3DayNovel boards got me to thinking about the pantsing/plotting question. The poster said “It’s a good start to a story I like. I know I need to plot!” The implication here is that if you have a problem just pantsing it (writing without a pre-planned plot) then your only choice is to plot. The problem is that decision is, IMHO, missing a vital first step. So I wrote the following response:
I would like to propose a distinction here: Everyone talks about plotting. Plotting, plotting. In my mind, that calls up the image of everyone in the villain’s lair, over a guttering candle, with a roll of plans held down by a rock, a knife, and a pistol. Sure that happens, but I think it is a late-intermediate step in the creation of a work.
First, you must think. Ask some hard questions. What is the MC’s purpose? What is the villain’s purpose? (I think that one is more important). What is the story question? What happens if the MC doesn’t solve the story question? How does the MC divine the story question? Does he have upside to avoiding the question?*
If the plot is the step-by-step construction of the story, putting the framework on the house, then the thinking is not just the foundation, it’s the siting of the story: are you building this house on a steep 60 degree slope? In a river? On a salt flat? Deep in the woods?
These are examples of bad places to site a house. Here’s the equivalent writing situations: Is your story so one-sided that you cannot depict a believable villain story and purpose (slope)? Or in such a chaotic setting that the idea of a stable, progressing story line is ludicrous (river)? Is the setting, or characters so arid that even you are bored (salt flat)? Or is the story concept so banal, so plebian, that there are hundreds of others like it (woods)?
That doesn’t mean you have a bad house. You have a bad site upon which to build your house. Manipulate some of your initial postulates in order to find that blend of contrast and utility that says :That house? It fits right in there.”
THEN you start plotting.
* – I’ve never been a fan of much of the horror subgenre where a bunch of young adults go into the only to have the evil pick them off one by one. About ten minutes into any such movie, I start cheering the evil for cleaning the gene pool of these obvious idiots. No, I get it…leave nobody behind, etc. But there is usually a period where escape is possible for all, and the apprehension of evil is there, but these fools keep going deeper. There is a huge upside to avoiding the main question here. Take the girl by the hand and leave. Come back in the daylight.