Plotter or pantser? The debate continues

Are you a plotter or a pantser? I start off as a not very systematic plotter and end up as a pantser.

In case you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, these are categories of writers – plotters develop their story plan or plot in advance and then begin to write; pantsers write by the ‘seat of their pants’, making the plot up as they go along. There’s ongoing debate about which is best.

I’ve been thinking about these two approaches recently because I’ve been writing short stories to enter in competitions, and finding that the story develops as I write it, even when I have a ‘sort of plot’ in my head.

I first came across ‘plotters’ and ‘pantsers’ when I did the ‘Year of the Novel’ course with Kim Wilkins angel of ruinauthor Kim Wilkins at the Queensland Writers Centre about ten years ago. Kim is a keen plotter, and showed us her planning journal, in which she’d detailed information about plot and characters for every chapter of a book already published.

I was pretty impressed at the time, and I’ve tried to follow that example, but have discovered that my fiction stories seem to develop as I write.

If you’re a writer, the question of course is: does it matter which approach you take? Will being more structured initially mean a better book, a better chance of publication?

If you look at well-published writers, you’ll find there’s no easy answer to that question.

J K Rowling, probably the most well-known and most-published author in recent years, is basically a plotter. She’s been quoted as saying ‘I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write.’

This suggests she’s neither one nor the other, but a look at some of her planning for Harry Potter books suggests she’s well and truly in the plotter’s camp, as in the example below.

J K Rowling planner

Rowling is joined by thriller writer John Grisham, who said, ‘I don’t start a novel until I have lived with the story for a while to the point of actually writing an outline and after a number of books I’ve learned that the more time I spend on the outline the easier the book is to write. And if I cheat on the outline I get in trouble with the book.’

Stephen King, on the other hand, said, ‘Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.’

And he’s also sold a few books in his time J

Siding with King is Margaret Atwood: ‘When I’m writing a novel, what comes first is anMargaret-Atwood-2 image, scene, or voice. Something fairly small. Sometimes that seed is contained in a poem I’ve already written. The structure or design gets worked out in the course of the writing. I couldn’t write the other way round, with structure first. It would be too much like paint-by-numbers.’

So, it seems, there is no agreement, even among our most published writers, about planning ahead or developing the story as they go.

I’ve discovered that I’m essentially I’m a pantser, when it comes to fiction. I now know what writers mean when they say that a character ‘takes over’ during the writing process.

Perhaps I’m a hybrid, what’s been called a plantser.

As for non-fiction, well, that’s another story…

If you’re a writer, which category do you fit into?

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

[Some quotes above are taken from a blog post on Goodreads by Hayley Igarashi.]

 For my blog about returning to the workforce, please see: confident4work.wordpress.com

What writers say

Jane Graves‘I’m cursed with not being able to see the good twists and turns of character and plot until I’m in the middle of writing the book. I can have a sense where it’s going, but absolutely nothing comes alive until the words start going down on the page. ~ Romance author Jane Graves.

 

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