Thursday, August 7, 2014

Plotter or Pantser?

Some people say they are plotters and some say they are pantsers, to be honest I'm not sure what I am. Maybe you guys can tell me once you see my writing process.

For the historical fiction MG novel I just completed (well, until I hear otherwise), I started by listening to my grandparents tell about their experiences during WWII. I started taking notes and telling them why I was jotting down their memories. I took lots of notes and am so grateful they were willing to share what was a difficult time in their lives with me.

I also wrote letters and got letters back from other family members who lived during this time period.

Then I typed up notes and potential scenes to use in my manuscripts.

I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction. Some books were for children and some were not, most notably I read selections from Winston Churchill's THE SECOND WORLD WAR series. (I have to quote him here, as his words were and are such an inspiration to me.) ~Never, never, never give up~ I realize he was talking about the war and the spirits of the people in England, but for me it took on a whole different meaning. Sharing my families and friends stories is something I have to do and I won't give up until it is published. It was my honor to fictionalize moments in their lives.

I visited museums and took lots of pictures, then organized them into envelopes, so when I started writing I could pull out photos for those scenes.

One museum I visited had replicas of government brochures, posters, and letters available for purchase. These items were extremely helpful for finding details about daily living. I also visited antique shops and purchased bits and pieces to inspire me. My grandfather gave me some documents from the war, too.

Then I organized all the research and books into files based on locations that they applied to.

I printed of a variety of different maps of England. I even found one that showed the railroad system during the war.

To my surprise, one of my blog friends, Gary at Klahanie Blog, told me he was from the village in England I was writing about. He sent me photographs, which was spectacular, as I hadn't been to Leek since I was a child.

Once I finished with my initial research, I organized and typed up my notes. Then I wrote them on index cards. It may seem redundant to write notes, type notes and then write them again, but each time I did this I was ingraining the research into my brain.

I kept a list of words and phrases that I liked and were appropriate for the time period. I mounted them on poster boards and then hung them up on bulletin boards in my office.

By now I kind of know where the scenes are going to take place in my story, so I mount the scene cards on poster board and then mount what could potentially happen in each location. I try to use the senses as much as possible in each scene. (ex: the sounds, the smells, how things feel and taste)

Most of the poster boards  were hanging on the bulletin boards in my office, so I could glance up from my desk and review them as I was writing and thinking. I also used an easel for the scene I was currently working on close to me.

I didn't use all of my research notes in this manuscript, but I left the manuscript open ended so if I do have the opportunity to write a sequel I already have some starting spots.

I'm sure there are much better ways of organizing your research and thoughts, but this worked for me. I think you have to find what method works for you...

So, what do you think? Am I a plotter or a pantser?

What are you?


  1. To me you seem like a plotter. The details you went through show that you plan so much a head of time and care about your work. I do not have the expertise to say ahead of time how the book will turn out, but I am sure that when you put so much love into your work, it will turn out to be very interesting for the readers.

  2. You are definitely a plotter and an organizer of your research. That's awesome. And your project sounds so cool!

  3. Love all the research you put into this. How wonderful to have your family a part of it.

    I like your way of organization. Very visual!

  4. Seems like you're a plotter to me. If you were more of a pantser, you would have started writing scenes before doing all the research and organizing. Loved seeing the process you went through, also! Good luck with the book! :)

  5. Hi Sharon - a serious plotter - it's all so well organised and efficient .. it must have made your life easy to refer back to and know the information was there ..

    It was incredible to find that Gary lives in Leek - such a co-incidence .. and I know he was very helpful.

    Interesting you use 'the railroad system' rather than 'rail network' as we would today .. even that might have changed names over 100 years.

    Cheers and good luck with the book ... Hilary

  6. I love how you've collected such a vast wealth of detail, from oral accounts, to historical facts, and other books in your timeperiod. I'm sure your work is richer for it! I think when you are working on a historical project, some plotting has to creep in by nature of the material you are working with. 3x5 cards are one of my favorite ways of breaking down my plot as well. Happy writing!

  7. You're a plotter. What amazing research. I need to get into research mode since I have a half finished MG historical that I stopped writing because I got stuck on research.

  8. I know I commented on this post. Where did it go??? Most people are a mixture of both. They start the plotter way and much of it goes panster as they write. There are pansters, but most are thoughtful and periodically stop to get the elements they'd need on an outline.

    Your process is interesting. I research as I go!

  9. Someone once told me that she does more research on her contemporary novels than her historicals. I called BS on that! I find that historicals require SO much more research. The research for a contemporary is all around us--with a historical you have to get everything down, from what people wore to what people ate. But for a historical writer, the research is FUN!

  10. First of all LOVE your new pic!!! Beautiful! Love the colors and vibrancy.

    What a sweet treasured moment to keep notes of your family's history. It sounds like you got a lot of plotting in your soul w all the organization. No wonder we get along :) What a beautiful memory to carry.

  11. Hi Sharon

    Wow, look how much work you've done. Well done! You have come on so far! I've not been around blogging for a couple of years, now I'm back, I check your manuscripts page and there you are - is that 6 books?? Very inspirational. I love the way you've set out your blog.This post is a behind the scenes of a writer; it's not just a notebook and pen. Oh if only it was that easy! Did you find a publisher? Sharon, Scotland x

  12. wow - I am so envious of how organized you are! This is a super process, and it sounds really interesting to learn about family. Great job!