As a rock-climber, back in my youth, it would never occur to me to scale a cliff without seeing at least a few moves ahead -a foothold to my left, a handhold to my right. As a skier, I will stand on the crest of a mogul run and pick a line. That’s not to say I always get it right. I’ve fallen countless times, both on ski slopes and on cliffs. Still, I like to know where I am going. I guess by nature, I am a plotter.
The terms, plotters and pantsers, are used to describe writers. These terms have probably been around for a long time but I recently learned about them. Plotters typically outline their works in progress. They have an idea of the storyline and most likely its ending. Pantsers, on the other hand, write by the “seat of their pants.” They have no plan. They just plunge in, let the words flow and see what happens.
But, come on, do true pantsers really exist? Would a pilot take off without knowing the flight pattern? Would a contractor build a house without a set of plans?
Some say that plotting curbs creativity. I don’t buy it. As a picture book author and illustrator, with generally 27 pages in which to tell a story, I need to know where I am headed. I need a plot. It can be a simple one, but something has to happen. And the story needs to move forward from page to page.
This is a standard storyboard for my nursery rhyme books – in which I take the original first verse and then add new verses to create a story. The storyboard shows me how many verses I will need and gives me a sense of the arc of the story. Since I also illustrate my own books, the storyboard helps me visualize the pictures. It’s critical to think of the pictures when writing a children’s book.
And now the fun and creative part begins. I love the puzzle-solving process of writing the verses, of reading and singing them out loud to make sure they flow and scan, of using playful language, of coming up with a satisfying ending. It’s a joy and a challenge. It may seem simple but it’s hard work. Without a storyboard it would be even harder- for me anyway.
What about you? Do you lean more toward being a plotter or a pantser? Will you tell me?