Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Form and Formulation

As I write this, I am struggling to write as a pantzer. I started the story, tentatively titled Moonlit while listening to a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode around 1 am. Because that started out well, I decided to write at least the first five chapters by the seat of my pants. I am not sure how well this is working out for me. I keep trying to formulate the plot in my head, figuring that as long as I don't write it down, it doesn't count as plotting.

Then, last week we had two published authors sit in on one of our writer's group meetings. Jeremy is a pantzer. He writes his story and doesn't look back. I know instinctively that that could never be my style. The other, Bill Drinkard, is more of a mixed breed. He had a solid concept in mind when he started his book, but wrote as it came to him, without a hard and fast outline. That is when I came to the conclusion that there is a difference between the form and formulation of a book.

The form of a book is necessary to most writers, be they pantzers or plotters. They need some sort of idea, a character or two, maybe even a reason for the story to be. For instance: the idea of a girl's fear of growing up, how she deals with it, a blonde girl, and a white bunny. These could be the basis of Alice in Wonderland, or any number of other stories. This group of notions gives form to thoughts, but doesn't require a plot before hand. All of the incidental things that occur - falling down a hole, meeting the weirdest menagerie of people, and ultimately walking through glass - are not within the form until after it is written.

The formulation of a book is quite different, and would probably be better suited to a plotter. To formulate, take those stated items from the previous paragraph and put them in a specific order. Rearrange them accordingly until they fit. A blonde girl is afraid of growing up... she meets a white bunny... she falls down a hole... she meets a catapillar and a mad hare... she finds a way to deal with her fears.

Formulations require a little more structure, because it needs a starting place and a stopping place. There is still wiggle room for those unexpected scenes stories seem to take, but the writer still ends up with a structure. The difference between a formulation and a plot is that the formulation does not force the writer to conform as much. It gives ideas more structure, which is what a plotter craves, but still leaves room for the pen to take control of the story, which is the pantzer's delight.

I might not be a complete pantzer, but I am still keeping up with my promise to write five chapters in pantzer style. But, I might try formulation after that, instead of writing in complete blindness. Perhaps introducing a modicum of structure will soothe my competitive brain...


  1. I liked this post very much. I hadn't thought about the difference between form, formulation, and plot before. You made a number of excellent points. I will have to think about this some more.

  2. Glad you liked it. I have thought long about how far I can go in structure of my story and still be a 'pantzer.' Hopefully this will help both of us.