This post needs some warnings. Maybe I'm insecure, or maybe I'm just aware that I'm about to stir a bee's nest, but I'm going to post warnings.
Warning #1: These are my observations after working with a lot of clients. Some are plotters, some are pantsers, some fall somewhere between the two, taking advantage of the best of both worlds. These are also my observations after working with a lot of people from varying critique groups.
Warning #2: These are my opinions. It's not fact. It's not law. It's nothing more than me expressing my thoughts. You don't have to agree with them. Feel free to disagree in the comments–just take it that second step and explain why you disagree. We may not agree at the end, but the discussion is fun.
Warning #3: I'm not out to offend anyone, but I expect I will ruffle feathers with my stance on this issue.
Now with the warnings out of the way, there are a few definitions I want to cover before I talk about this subject.
Plotters: These are people who, to some degree or another, plot their novels out before they start writing. For the sake of this discussion, plotters refers to people who do more than a very brief book blurb or mini outline of the novel. This is referring to those who will plot each chapter or scene of the entire novel before they write. Plotters will also detail their characters far in advance of writing.
Pantsers: These people are those who sit down and write. They do very little preparation before they start writing. They may take a few notes about the characters or general concepts of what they are going to do in the novel, but they do not take detailed notes prior to writing.
These individuals may take notes after they write though.
Pantsers may also take notes in their head as they write.
The Median Crowd: These are people who are both plotters and pantsers. They may only plan a chapter ahead, or they may only keep notes for certain things. Their characters are often not outlined extensively in advance, though some do. These people borrow from both categories. And yes, you can do this. This is my method of writing currently.
I fall somewhere between plotter and pantser. I don't plan far ahead, but I know where I'm going in the novel. I may have certain scenes planned out before I write. But I am constantly replotting what I do because of the pantsing element.
I will often start a project with little to no preparation and plot it as characters make decisions.
But since this isn't about me, I'm going to start with my observations regarding my clients.
Most of my clients are plotters. While I have a few pantsers in the lot, most of them like knowing where they are going when they write a novel.
Many of them have had middling to moderate issues with characterization in their novels. This can range from the character just not being sympathetic to the characters making decisions that are so outside of their normal operative that it makes them look really unrealistic. Characters make or break a novel, in my opinion. They are why we read.
We don't read for plot. We read for characters. We want to read about people. The plot can take our breaths away–if harnessed to a character who makes the plot feel real. The plot, in my opinion, is the consequence of choices made by all characters involved in the story.
Some plotters can manage to develop their characters as they plot in realistic fashions.
This is a generalization, but bear with me a moment: Inexperienced plotters often have really poor character development.
This is a generalization, but bear with me a moment: Inexperienced pantsers often have really poor plot development.
Well, well. What do we have here? A mirror image of flaws? Yep. Plotters often have really strong plot lines, with stories that could have the potential to carry through from the first page to the end–if those blasted characters didn't feel so flat or like they existed for the sake of the plot.
Pantsers often have these amazing characters who naturally develop through the course of a story, but the plot often has more holes than Swiss cheese.
Now, of course there are exceptions to this. Experienced plotters can manage to somehow (through magic, I'm convinced it is through magic) capture character development and plot. They create really strong stories. From what I know of them, James Patterson and Brandon Sanderson are two plotters I know of who have this magical ability.
(I have a serious amount of respect for both of those men.)
The same also applies to pantsers, by the way. There are talented pantsers who can figure out the plots as they go, using the characters they have built to create strong plots from start to finish of a novel.
But there is one key point about both of these exceptions: These people are experienced.
Experience matters. Learning matters. Skill really matters.
You can argue pantser or plotter all day long, but both camps, I believe you are both wrong. There are weaknesses and advantages to both of your methods. There are weaknesses and advantages to taking the middle ground.
If there weren't weaknesses, everyone would write books using the same method because that method would be the only viable one.
So instead of arguing that your way is the right way, take a close look at the inherent disadvantages of your way, and figure out how to fix them.
Until you do, you'll end up as yet another manuscript on an editor's desk (or an agent's desk) riddled with stereotypical weaknesses because you aren't experienced enough–or too set in your ways–to overcome the challenges of your writing style.
Characterization is hard for everyone.
So is plotting.
Specializing in characterization (pantsing) or plotting (plotters) can give your story great strength, but also great weakness.
You don't need to change how you do things… but you should be aware of the risks your type of method has. And if you think your way has no disadvantages, you're likely doing yourself–and your novel–severe injustice.
What is your method, and have you had similar experiences? Do you struggle with your characterization as a plotter? Do you struggle with your plots as a pantser?
How do you intend to address the inherent weaknesses of your method?