This is the great divide between writers. Some writers plot every word of their novels, others ‘fly by the seat of their pants’. In its extreme form, Plotters have worked out every detail of their story before they write a single word. Pantsers, on the other hand, sit at their computers, start typing and wait for inspiration.
In reality, most writers fit somewhere along the spectrum. Even Lee Child, an extreme Pantser, has some idea what his story is about before he begins. Lee Child differs from most Pantsers in his attitude to re-writing. Being an extreme Pantser, Lee believes the story which unfolds is the story which needs to be written. When an editor suggested a plot change would improve one of his books, Lee replied ‘probably, but that’s not the way it happened.’ A fellow author horrified him by mentioning the thousands of words he had just deleted in his work in progress. He would never do that, Lee said. He was a ‘writer, not a deleter’. Rewriting is the curse of the more moderate Pantser. When you have no plan, it’s easy to lose control of the story or to write yourself into a dead end.
I am in awe of JK Rowling’s plotting skills. In an interview, she said that the idea for Harry Potter came to her on a train journey. She then wrote pages and pages of backstory to get a better understanding of her characters. She also drew detailed maps of the world she created. The extreme plotting was obvious in her stories. When you finished the final Harry Potter book, you had the feeling that the story flowed seamlessly from beginning to end.
I envy Plotters. Their process, from the outside at least, appears to be fast and efficient. I’d love to sit down at my computer, knowing exactly what I intended to write that day. Unfortunately, my brain doesn’t work that way. Even as a kid, when we were required to turn in the plan of our school essays, I wrote the essay first and the plan afterwards. Remember those essays where you were asked to discuss a topic? ‘XXX was the cause of World War II, Discuss”. I would start by agreeing and halfway through, realise I actually disagreed. A friend of mine is an extreme extrovert. If you ask her a question, she doesn’t stop to think. She starts talking and along the way discovers what she believes. I start writing and, along the way, I realise what I want to say.
I call myself a Reluctant Pantser but there is one aspect of pantsing I adore. There is nothing quite as exciting as pantsing. As a reader, I often can’t turn the page fast enough because I’m desperate to find out what comes next. It’s even more fun as a writer when a plot twist suddenly appears and you have to keep writing to see where the story is going. Halfway through writing ‘Girl Targeted’, the climax popped into my head. I had to abandon the section I was writing and type out the entire ending. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my writing life.
Whether authors are Plotters or a Pantsers depends on the way their minds work. It’s something I think we have little control over. Fortunately, our approach to writing doesn’t generally affect the quality of the book we produce. Plotting and pantsing are just different routes to the same destination.
If you’d like to check out my thriller ‘Girl Targeted‘, click on the link here.