The Indiana Jones Method

Plotter. Pantster. Plotter or Pantster? Plotter and Pantster? Sounds sort of like a law firm, doesn’t it? “Plotter and Pantster. We can make your legal troubles disappear.” Or maybe a clown act. “At this moment in ring three, you can see the rib-tickling antics of those hilarious funnymen, Plotter and Pantster!”

Actually the terms are a lot more mundane than those examples. A plotter is a writer who prefers to write from a detailed outline. A “pantster” is a writer who writes by the seat of their pants. Other than a general story arc, a pantster doesn’t always know where the story is going when they first sit down to write it.

I’ve been a pantster for most of my writing life. It’s a relatively new term to me. When people ask me how I write, I reply, “I write by the ‘Indiana Jones Method.’ I’m making this up as I go.” This method isn’t really a choice for me. It’s just how I work best. I try filling out character charts and turning point charts. Most of the time, they remain depressingly blank, and I shut down even the thought of writing in sheer frustration.

For me, when I sit down to write, the story unfolds like I’m watching a movie in my mind. I can see the setting and the characters. Sometimes I have a specific scene that I’m working toward, and sometimes the scenes just appear. It’s the way I’ve always done it, and the other way just doesn’t seem to go for me.

The Indy style does make it hard to write and sell by synopsis. It’s also true that sometimes the story takes wild tangents, sometimes you have a character walk into the middle of the book and try to take over, and sometimes you bog down and wonder, “What the heck was I thinking when I started this story?”

I have nothing against plotting. It prevents wandering, “middle of the book” blues, and gives a writer tools to make sales. Some writers are reluctant to give up “pantsing” because they think they’ll lose the freshness of their story. They’re afraid to be penned in by what they see as a rigid structure.

For my part, I’m not worried about freshness or structure. I just get more writing done when I sit at my keyboard and say, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Then I fight my way through the story from beginning to end. It may not be the best or most profitable way to write, but it’s the way that works for me.


Becky A said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Miss Jeannie. I finally know "what I am". When the other blogs would talk about charts and plots and story arcs, my brain would overload. I guess that's because, ta da, I'm a pantster. I sat down one day and just started typing and out it came. That's the way I always do it. I can write all kinds of stories in my head but when I go to put them on paper, they do their own thing. It's nice to know that I'm not crazy after all. Um, ok, I'm a little crazy. Oh all right, I'm crazy in a lot of things, but don't tell ANYONE, ok? It'll ruin my "character"! LOLROTF, followed by evil laughter, ha ha ha ha ha . . .

Penny Rader said...

I think I'm sort of a blend the two, but I lean a little more towards plotting. Actually, plotting doesn't come easily for me, but if I have an idea of what I'm writing towards, then I seem to be able to get some words on the page.

Nina Sipes said...

Jeannie, very well put. I've been one of those who tries a bit of everything that comes along--and they don't work for me or I'm not doing them right. Which could be true. I like it that you know what gets your work out. I swear my eyes bled when I tried to figure out story arc. I quit before I ran out of bandages...or blood.

Joan Vincent said...

Love the explantion! I started out a plotter but my characters always seemed to take over my stories. That really freaked me out in the beginning and I still wonder how or why that really occurs. I remember in the early days telling my husband one night I had to finish the book to see how it ended. He laughed and asked for the real reason I was still working. I explained that I knew boy got girl or vis versa but wasn't completely sure how until I wrote it. I used to revise and revise outlines. Now I do make a beginning outline but when the characters go wild I just follow them. I'm a party animal in my own fashion.

Starla Kaye said...

Even though I create character and motivation charts and a basic outline structure chart, I really am more of a "pantster." I create the charts, only loosely filled out, and use them as something to come back to as I write along. Sometimes my characters and the storyline will wander way out of line and need to be reined in a bit. My structure chart is a huge deal for me since I write and publish three or more stories at a time. I have to have something that summarizes what I have said in the story as I go along.

Roxann Delaney said...

Starla, even though I'm more plotter than pantster these days, when it comes to character charts, I don't. How strange is that?

No, I don't know what books the hero reads or even IF he reads...unless it's pertinent to the story. I sometimes know his parents' and siblings' names, but only if they need to be mentioned by name. What I do know is his (or hers, in the case of the heroine) backstory. What brought the character to the point of the opening of the book. Did he or she have a happy, normal childhood, until... Or did he or she have a childhood of being shuffled from one foster home or relative to another?

Those questions and life details end up in a character sketch, which is really a bio, for the book's synopsis and is half a page to a full page long for each the hero and heroine. A chart or even questionaire never enters into it.

Just goes to show how different we all work at getting to the same starting place and especially The End.

Penny Rader said...

Starla, I'm in awe of you. Not only because you've written so many amazing stories, but also because you're able to work on several at a time...and have found system that helps you keep them all straight.

I like charts and questionnaires (sp?) because they help me learn about my characters and then help me keep track of long as I can find those blasted charts when I need them.

Nina Sipes said...

I love the Indiana Jones Method name for what we do. Really apt.