To Plot Or Not To Plot?

Greetings fellow Royals! One question has been bugging me since I started writing. 

Should you plot a story or let the wind take you where it will? 

One kind Royal recommended Stephen King’s Memoir, “On Writing” to me. And one of the things he says about story is not to plot. Instead, put the characters in a unique situation and let them drive the flow of the story. JK Rowling, on the other hand, plotted the entire Harry Potter series from Book 1-7. This adds to my confusion. 

To plot or not to plot? That is the question. I am struggling to see where and how my story should flow. And now I have to decide between the two. 

Should I write and let my characters drive the story? Or should I plot and lead them to it? 

And what about you Royals out there? Do you plot or not? I love to hear your opinion. Please share and help this poor writer. Thank you!

PeoReading DrakanBook

Re: To Plot Or Not To Plot?

After many dropped projects, I've found that I absolutely need to know the ending before I start, otherwise I meandre about and get lost and never finish. Outside of that I'm a little more flexible. I find it very helpful to outline the key beats, but these usually change a lot as I'm actually writing. I'll also write out a summary of a chapter before starting it, which may end up being a summary of the next 4-5 chapters once I'm done.

It took a lot of trial and error to find what worked for me. More indepth outlines like the grid method seemed like more effort than they were worth as my plot usually changed so much as I was writing that most of it went down the drain, or it killed some of the fun. My attempts at pure discovery writing have never ended with a finished book, so I've pretty much abandoned the idea. 

Overall, I'd place myself somewhere near the middle of the spectrum. If you're just starting out, I recommend you try something similar. I found beat sheets a very good starting point, as it helped me keep the pacing on track without taking too much time to put together. With the beats down, you've got a good 10-15 milestones to work toward without losing the fun of your characters driving the story. I've also found it means that once the first draft is complete, I need to do less structural edits.

Hope that helps.

Re: To Plot Or Not To Plot?

There's two types of writers: pantsers and planners.

A pantser writes the story as they go along.
A planner writes the story with very set plans and plots points to connect.

That's not to say they're binary in nature -- plenty of people are both, or lean on one more than the other. I myself would be describe as a 'plantser' who has a beginning, an end, and key plot points in the middle prepared for a story, but also leaves room for new ideas and/or changes that can improve said story. 

It's a wonderful thing to let the characters take charge of the story. But at the same time, it helps to know your destination and where you want them to end up, or else you risk having no idea what you are doing with your work.

Re: To Plot Or Not To Plot?

What process a writer chooses is one of their own. There is no hard you either do this or that. Those are your two options. Writing doesn't work like that. 

Sure, what method works for Stephen King, might work for Stephen King. He someone who doesn't need a lot of structure. Someone who is having trouble with sticking to a story and constantly running out of steam because they don't know where to go probably needs more of a structure of an outline. And someone who just needs to have characters and plot laid out a little for them but wishes to have the freedom of not knowing everything, outlining a story completely isn't for them.

I am the latter. I'm not a pantser. I used to be, but as my writing has changed over the years, I need to know parts of the story before I get started on it. However, that doesn't make me a writer who outlines. Planning to little will cause me to abandon a project. Knowing too much will keep me from writing a project.

I'm what I like to call a hybrid writer. It's not either or with me. It's all about balance for me and that change from story to story. The more complex a plot is, the more ground work I need to do before I start to help maintain that balance. So each novel I have written my process has adjusted itself. Novellas, I have a slightly different process.

Find your own process to get results. If you can't finish a story, adjust your process. A certain story is kicking you in the butt even with an established process, adapt and adjust you process.

Re: To Plot Or Not To Plot?


L.J.Anders Wrote: Find your own process to get results. If you can't finish a story, adjust your process. A certain story is kicking you in the butt even with an established process, adapt and adjust you process.
Exactly what I would've advised has already been written. 

It's a big mix, and only you can figure out what works for you. 

As someone who is nearing the completion of my 11th draft for a novel, I have found that I like plotting.... But I was having a lot of trouble with this latest WIP. I threw the entire outline (will be coming back to those ideas later) and let the deuteragonist do one single thing that was consistent with the spot his character is right now. The fall out of that one choice just made up the rest of the books content and it's wonderful. So even if you find that you're more naturally a plotter or a pantser, you can still take techniques from either to boost your productivity and creativity. Just figure out whatever you like to do. :)

Re: To Plot Or Not To Plot?

Yeah, everyone has their own methods. Some people swear by things like WorldAnvil to help them write. Some can't write well on a computer, and have dozens of notebooks where they write their first drafts. Some people outline the hell out of every single detail. Some people turn their brains off and just type. Personally, I like spreadsheets, and would have a hard time writing without them.
At the end of the day, writing is supposed to be a hobby. It's something we do for fun, so if something is draining the joy out of writing, even if some people declare that it must be done to be a good author, stop. Cut it out, switch it up, and have fun again!

Re: To Plot Or Not To Plot?

Characters can drive a story by themselves, but I guess you could say they need supervision by the author. Characters drive the plot, and if that plot isn't what you want, you need to change it a bit. That actually has little to do with plotting it out, though.
Different writers plot out more stuff, and both have their merits. On this site, I'd recommend thinking about the twists you want to foreshadow, but don't try to plot too far ahead. Doing that can lower pace.

Re: To Plot Or Not To Plot?

There's no one answer that is right for everyone. Some find without a plot they get lost in the weeds. Some, like myself, find that a detailed plot makes it hard to focus on the early parts of the story ("She can't say that now! It won't properly set up for that scene 40 chapters away!").

You're going to need to try out different things and find what works for you. For me, that's a good setting and a strong grasp of my characters. I have a general idea of where I'm going and ideas of what might or might not happen on my way there. Others have chapter-by-chapter outlines! There's no wrong way.