Diehard planners and pantsers

It’s always interesting comparing notes with other writers and exchanging views not only about what we all write, but how differently we write. When I start a new story I usually have a few floaty ideas, some of which make it onto the page and harden into something, some make it to the page but die there and some ideas remain just that, ideas. As the characters emerge, and the plot develops things weave around and gradually a form appears which I can work to. Often a new idea happens, or a new character suddenly leaps onto (or off) the page and everything takes a huge diversion away from the vague ending I had in mind. When I eventually finish the first draft then there is a mighty battle to knock the whole thing into some sort of shape, and then the hard work of editing, checking, revising, and chopping out the thousands of extra words I’ve written, the tens of thousands usually!

On a social media site the other day, a published author asked how others write, to plan or not to plan. I was interested that he, like me doesn’t have a rigid idea of what is going to happen. He just goes with the flow, page by page; this means his readers can’t guess the ending, because he has absolutely no idea of what is going to happen. “I give my characters free rein, and hope they know what they’re doing!” That almost perfectly describes my process too, and I commented on that. He writes for pleasure – surely most writers do that, or what’s the point? He doesn’t work to a pre-prepared plan because he doesn’t want to know what’s going to happen until it does.  I must say I’d find it so boring to write to a plan; and all sorts of unexpected inspirations and twists and turns occur when I’m writing. This does mean that sometimes I have to have a real hard think to progress my story, but that’s part of the fun and challenge and it makes it more exciting! Sometimes I’m on the edge of my seat wondering what on earth is going to happen next, or how a character is going to escape a situation! My characters become very real to me and having a plan would make them wooden, almost like puppets, rather than believable people.

However, different writers work in different ways, so I’m not suggesting everyone should be like me, every writer is an individual, and it’s interesting to find out how others write. Somebody replied to the question, describing themselves as a diehard plotter and planner, breaking their plots down by chapter with eight to ten points per chapter. Crikey, that would be impossible for me! By the time they begin to actually write they’ve “practically written the bones of the book already before starting the proper writing.”  I don’t think I could do that, I’m much more random and spontaneous – which doesn’t make me a better writer, of course, and I would never imply that there’s anything wrong in meticulous planning! The person making this comment said they would be really stressed by not knowing what was happening, I guess I’d be really bored by knowing what was going to happen next in my stories.

Another through and through planner commented that their favourite part of the writing process is the plotting, creating “a complex and perfectly balanced web of a story which hits all the themes and completes the various character arcs.”  I confess, I don’t know what a character arc is… I’ve looked it up and Wikipedia says:

A character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story.

I must say, it’s nothing I’ve ever thought about but if I look at stories I’ve written then yes, the characters do change, develop and are affected by what they experience, but I don’t really write about inner transformations or journeys as discrete themes.  I was very interested in what this person had said, and admired them for honestly commenting that sometimes “there’s so much detail, that although the planning is necessary, it can also really bog me down.” I guess that is what I fear, or maybe I am just a bit lazy! Someone else creates scene spreadsheets, word tables and table plotters, I’m not exactly sure what the latter two are but just as I struggle with lists and list making and I think I’d find such things would slow me down and bore me.

Some of the people who commented have published books which I am going to buy so it will be really interesting knowing about the background to their writing! By the way, a pantser is someone who flies by the seat of their pants… I guess that’s me!

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