Authors are often asked whether we’re plotters or pantsers—do we plan out our story lines in advance and outline them in detail, or merely start writing and just see what happens?
I’ve been a devout plotter for all my fiction writing career. And for my legal writing career, as well. Though truly, I can’t fathom how anyone could draft a legal brief without doing at least a little outlining. (Oh wait, come to think of it, I do believe some of those sloppy motions I received from opposing counsel over the years might well have been written without a whole lot of advance planning…)
I have to admit that even the thought of sitting down with only a vague idea and then simply writing a mystery novel scares the heck out of me. You have to plant clues, after all, and red herrings, and suspects. How could you do that just willy-nilly? (Asks the list-making, check-everything-three-times, Virgo Chick.)
But what’s interesting is that when it comes to cooking, I’m the exact opposite. Sure, I love to read cookbooks. And my favorite day of the week for the newspaper is when the food section comes out, so I can peruse the recipes, maybe learn a new technique for rolling out pasta, and drool over all the seasonal ingredients highlighted that time of year. (These days it’s lots of root vegetables, hearty stews, and ways to use up all that leftover turkey in your freezer.)
But I don’t tend to use recipes when I prepare food. In this area of my life I am a full-on pantser, tasting my sauce, adding a dash of this or that, then tasting it again. I don’t worry about messing it up, because I have a solid understanding of the chemistry of cooking, so I know instinctively what will work and what won’t.
which isn’t to say I’m not organized when I cook…
Okay, so here’s the thing. About a month ago I had the opportunity to sit on a panel with several other mystery authors, including the talented Laurie R. King. We were asked about this plotter/pantser thing, and Laurie talked about how she’d been a complete plotter for her first four books, but then switched to the seat-of-your-pants method for number five. “By then I’d figured out how to do it, how to write a mystery novel,” she explained, “so I thought, why not try it the other way? And it worked.” She’s been a devout seat-of-the-pantser ever since.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what Laurie said that night. I, too, am now embarking on my fifth mystery novel, and am seriously considering throwing caution to the wind and going at it without a fully fleshed-out plot (though I do have a very short synopsis).
Hey, if I can do it with cooking, why not writing?
Readers: Is there anything you do in your life that you’re tempted to have a go at without some sort of crutch or back-up you generally rely on?