“Are you a plotter or a pantster?”
Utter this question in a group of writers and watch from a safe distance as the formerly unified whole splits into two parts like the ground on a fault line in an earthquake (and with about as much noise). Notice the shifty glances cast as writers discreetly shuffle to one side or the other of the gap now forming, ever-so-subtly aligning themselves with those who are likeminded. Look on and wonder, “What have I done?”
What you have done, my friend, is broached one of today’s literary hot topics.
While the divide is not nearly so dramatic as an earthquake, many authors are firmly established as one or the other, and knowing which side you stand on could be foundational in your career as a writer.
A plotter is someone who outlines an entire work before sitting down to actually write it. Writing this way gives authors a detailed map, allowing them to plan minute details before even writing a word.
A pantster, on the other hand, is someone who writes without the outline, literally “flying by the seat of the pants”. Pantsters prefer this method because it allows the story to grow more organically, and allows the writer to be surprised during the writing process.
Well known plotters include Katherine Anne Porter, John Grisham, R.L. Stein, and J.K. Rowling. Nora Roberts, Margaret Atwood, Pierce Brown, and Stephen King are among the pantsters. Many authors fall into one of the two camps, and you can find a lot of resources online to help you identify which style suits you the most.
Me, however… I’m more of an excavator. As I’m playing with my initial idea, I find scenes scattered throughout the plot like bones peeking through surface dirt. I craft those scenes carefully, executing the tools to hand as precisely as an architect excavates fragile skeletal fragments from the earth. Once out in the open, I hang them on a plot diagram in rough-guestimation about where they belong. As I write, more of the current work’s structure is exposed, and a better picture of the overall whole begins to form, allowing me to plan the positioning and execution of the elements of the work accordingly.
Much like exhuming a fossilized skeleton from the ground, my method is slow, painstaking work. It requires many drafts, but what work-in-progress (WiP) doesn’t? And, oh, the surprises I find along the way!
If, like me, you find you are neither a plotter nor a pantster, never fear. Writing is subjective, even down to its very creation, and no to authors work exactly the same way. My suggest is to experiment with both plotting and pantsing, borrow what works from each method, and meld them into a combination of your own. Then, when your WiP is completely excavated and ready to be viewed by the masses, look on and wonder at the amazing thing you have done.
What about you? Do you write best as a plotter, a pantster, or an excavator? Let us know in the comments below.