The existential dilemma of whether or not to follow your characters wherever they might lead.

What is the dilemma you ask.

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The dilemma is this:

Do you follow where you characters lead or are you determined to keep the story on the course you’ve already determined for it? This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As I have written my story, it has taken quite a few twists and turns that I did not expect or see coming. What did I do with them? Why, I followed of course!

Isn’t that what a writer does?

Well, that is the question isn’t it?

I have never been overly fond of the terms “Plotter” or “Pantser” but I do begin, after all this time, to see why they fit so well.

A plotter sits down and plots out the course of their novel. They do a detailed outline. They may even go so far as to have almost a rough draft’s worth of information before they begin seriously “writing” their story.

Here is where I get a little unclear on how the process works. I know what I do but I have no idea what a “plotter” does during much of their process.

When I “plot” out a story, I write down a short synopsis with the main basic points, conflicts, ideas and a bit of information about my main character, their journey and the main people they deal with along that journey. This is usually about 3 paragraphs, maybe a whole page if I’m feeling very detailed that day.

I have said before that I was a “flow-er” because I go with the flow of the story but, the more I think about it, the more I am certain that what I am is a “Builder”. Because build is precisely what I do with the story and the characters. I build the story as I go. Usually when I start, I know a few details about where I want the story to go and I usually know how I want it to end but the details, well they come later. I build them in as I go. Just like I build the characters and the world around all of them.

I can see where this method could be inherently problematic. I make changes in the story up until it’s done and sometimes this means hunting up various parts of the story to edit and change things three or four times during the process. Personally, I think it’s better this way but I’m sure a lot of writers would think of this as too scattered. And it may be for a lot of writers. But I’m certain there are others like me out there who enjoy this method because they never know where it’s going to take them.

I’m reminded of a quote I saw recently by Beatrix Potter.

“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” ― Beatrix Potter

Now, as I understand it, the “Plotters” do not do this. They plot out their story and then they just add more details. I don’t know for certain that there are absolutely no plotters out there who are flexible enough to go with the flow if the characters or the story show them another direction they want to go but from what I know of that style, it’s mostly true.

I also don’t know if “Plotters” ever deals with the pull of a character while they are planning out their story or not but I have to say I am curious. And I’m very curious whether or not they follow that leading.

I couldn’t imagine ignoring that inspiration. I rely on my characters to help me make the story work. If I ignore one of them who is trying to tell me something, I wouldn’t think that would make me a very good writer and I don’t think my story would be very good.

After all, it’s not really my story, it’s theirs. I’m just telling it.

So which one are you? Are you a plotter or a builder? Do you follow the leading of your characters or are you determined to stubbornly hold to your own course? And do you think it helps your story to follow the character’s leading or stick to the original plan?

© J.C. Morrows 2013

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God Bless You!

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