Writing Process
Charlotte Rains Dixon  

Parsing for Plotters: Three Methods

First off, I probably need to explain my headline.  

For starters, I'm a plotter, as opposed to a pantser, though I'm not a terribly serious, must-know-everything plotter.  I know most of you know the difference between a plotter and a pantser, but there are always newbies among us and so I shall pontificate:

A plotter must likes to get the story lined out (be it novel, short story or article) ahead of time, before he starts writing.  

A pantser likes to sit down and write and see what happens.


Pantsing makes plotters shiver with distaste.  You get stuck in black holes, they cry! You waste time going down story lines that don't pan out! You get to the end and nothing works because you didn't know where you were going!

Plotting makes pantsers shudder with disgust.  If you already know the story, you get bored writing it, they say.  You don't leave any room for the magic to happen! You are not as creative as we are!  

Okay, okay, maybe they don't say that last bit.  But they think it.  


I am a plotter because I've wasted way too much time trying to make books come together that I haven't thought out.  I'm a plotter because if I know where I'm going when I open a file to write, I get way more done than if I don't.  I'm a plotter because I know that even having a loose outline to follow still allows for the creative magic (the walk-on character, the unexpected plot twist) to happen.

And since I am a plotter, I am also a parser.  Even if you are a pantser, you are likely a bit of a parser, too.  Allow me to explain myself. By parsing, I mean figuring out all the shit that goes into a story.  And let me tell you, in a novel, there is a lot of it.  Which means a lot of parsing.  At least for me.

I am not the kind of writer who sits down, does an outline, then follows it.  I sit down, do an outline, write some, realize the outline doesn't work, parse, and then rinse and repeat.  And also, there is parsing a plenty when it comes to figuring out that outline.


So, this is an article about parsing.  Because, it occurred to me while talking to a client the other day that there are three kinds of parsing.  (Maybe even more, but these are the ones I have identified.)

You may prefer to thin while parsing.  You may prefer to write while parsing.  Or you may prefer to talk while parsing.  Let's look at each style:

Writing parsing.  This is what I like to do, and what makes the most sense to me.  Writers write, right? I'm a champion writing parsing.  I feel spirals and journals with notes on my WIP and have tons of files saved on the computer as well.  I think through my fingers (to the point that if I'm to retain information, I need to take notes) and so this kind of figuring out works well for me.

Talking parsing.  This kind of parsing can happen in a critique group, with a writing coach or teacher, your agent or editor, or with a trusted family member or friend.  It can be incredibly helpful to brainstorm out loud and throw around ideas for your story in these situations.  And, a note of caution: I find this works best after you've gotten some notes and ideas, and maybe even some scenes, down on paper.  Because I've also had the experience of talking the story out before its time.

Thinking parsing.  Thinking is one of the most underrated of activities for writers.  Sometimes you just need to have a good think.  You need to ponder how things go together, what happened to a character to make her so cranky, or what's going to happen next in the story.  

Probably all writers utilize all these methods at various times, but most will also lean toward one, as I do.  Knowing which you are most comfortable with will help you move forward on your WIP because you won't be spinning your wheels trying to make notes if what you really need to do is put your feet up and think.

So, which are you?  A writer, a thinker, or a talker?

 Photo by jurvetson.

0 thoughts on “Parsing for Plotters: Three Methods

  1. Zan Marie

    Ha! You can have plotting, outlining, etc., my dear friend. 😉 I have to have a vague idea of the story arc laid out in story board fashion. Then my back brain goes traveling, churning up bits and pieces in any old order it wants. Finishing it off does require a bit of work of the plotting sort, but to do that first, is to put my story into a very limited straight jacket.

    Here’s to all of us who tell stories any way whichever that strikes our fancy!

  2. Charlotte Dixon

    So true! Whatever works as long as,we do it!

  3. Kayla Dawn Thomas

    So that’s what I am! My first book was all pants, but since then I’ve started sketching rickety outlines and making lots of notes. I move things around as I go and fill in holes, but it does help to have some direction. I generally know what needs to happen at the end of the book, but there are many options on how to get there. Loving your Spain pictures!

  4. Charlotte Dixon

    Thanks, sweetie! And I love that you have switched back and forth. Whatever works!

  5. Dyoung

    Definitely more of a plotter here- but I’m a bit of a pantser too. I make vague outlines. What I’ve done with my first novel is write out a vague outline of each chapter on a notecard. As I sit with a card- my mind starts going to fill that chapter. I’ve gone back to tweak- or skipped ahead to change notes, or add to…but not much.

    As far as parsing- I’m more of the talking parser. I have a very close friend whom I brainstorm out loud to about my book. I trust her above anyone else to do this. I know the guts of my story are safe with her and she isn’t going to judge me. Sometimes that leads to thinking parsing- esp if we chatted on the phone. Because after our convos, my mind keeps going and things start flowing.

    Thanks for these outlines- Char. And like Kayla, I too am enjoying the pics of the trip!

  6. Charlotte Dixon

    Love reading this, Dona. I think it's really helpful for all writers to read about how others do it. And glad you are enjoying the pictures. I love seeing your comments on them!

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