In this post I take time-out from my usual exploration of specific creative writing techniques to ruminate about a subject that I’ve been interested in since I started writing. At its core, it’s about the relationship between plotting and pantsing, the relationship between the left and right hemispheres of our brains.
I hold the view that a pre-determined plot is necessary prior to the commencement of the first draft, especially in a screenplay where there is limited space for things to fall into place. But I also maintain that magic often comes unexpectedly.
Certainly, our knowledge of structure, dialogue, pace, and the like—essentially a left brain activity, is necessary during the editing of the drafts to follow, but can this theoretical knowledge of the craft ever take the place of spontaneity, serendipity, and the efficacy of the muse—the activity stemming from the right side of our brain?
I think not. Nor should it have to. I think the purpose of theoretical knowledge is to saturate both hemispheres so that the level of practical knowledge (active skill) is seamlessly guided by the theoretical.
In writing Scarab II: Reawakening, for example, I meticulously plotted the shape of the story, using my knowledge of structure, before commencing work on the actual writing. Yet, perhaps the most interesting, and, in my opinion, gripping part of the novel, the expanded role of Dr. Kobus van Niekerk, the South African archeologist, occurred at the last moment, during the actual writing itself. This was quite unplanned for and was as much of a surprise to me as I hope it will be to the reader. This was a moment of inspiration that rode above the pre-planned plot—although it did significantly add to it.
My point is that large structural changes or additions can assail one at any time, and should be absorbed, if deemed fitting, at any stage of the writing process. They are perhaps the clearest sign of the two hemispheres working together in concert and, therefore, that plotting and pantsing are not rivals but co-conspirators in the craft of writing.
Insight often comes unexpectedly and seems, at first sight, to be at odds with our original direction. Integrating it into our creative process, however, often makes for a more original and inspired story.
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