Which is right: Plotting or Seat of the Pants?

Typically, experts who happen to be in-control plotters (NCP) will tell you their method is the right way to write, while professional seat of the pants authors swear by theirs and got published that way, too. Truth is, neither method is strictly wrong or even best for every person. Which writing method is right for you comes down to personality type; whether you’re an intuitive or a sensor, (SOP v. NCP) or Judging or Perceiving (NCP vs. SOP.)

If you don’t know those terms, basically, you are hard-wired to write a certain way. If pure SOP comes most naturally to you and produces better results than NCP produces, you’re an N and likely a P. If you couldn’t SOP to save your soul, the very thought makes you shudder, and you suspect SOP equals lazy, possibly insane,  and definitely unprofessional, you’re an SJ. If you’re somewhere in between these two extremes, you’re probably an NJ or an SP. Note these are generalities:  A sensing author’s characters may occasionally talk back to them, and an Intuitive can learn how to plot and plan and may choose to do so.

Intuitive or Sensing is usually dominant if you’re a mixed type. A Sensing Perceiving writer will plot and plan ahead, usually on paper, but will be flexible about the details and will feel the need to keep their options open to making changes as need arises.

An Intuitive Judging writer (me) will tend to plan ahead and prefers to have everything pinned down before we start, but will go fishing if we’re feeling adventuresome, i.e. if it feels right for this particular book. We also tend to keep track of everything we have carefully crafted about our plot, characters, and setting in our heads unless we discipline ourselves to do otherwise. We’re really good at keeping track of things in our heads, though.

So, to address the plotter’s favorite critiques of SoP: for you that would absolutely be true. For the intuitive SOP writer, however, due to the way their brains are wired to process data, the method’s effectiveness entirely depends upon the knowledge the SoP writer has fed themselves with in terms of plot and structure of whether it will work out or not. An intuitive who knows how to properly structure and plot a novel will actually produce similar results to a CF with an ounce of flexibility in him/her.

Yes, Plotter, that means an intuitive can go study your favorite plot structure rules and techniques, mentally jot them down, and, with practice, learn how to intuitively knock out a carefully plotted novel while seemingly having done no advanced planning at all, at least so far as a computer can detect. This seems impossible or unlikely to you because you are not wired for that.

While the intuitive writer’s sanity may fairly be in question, there can in fact be a method to our madness.