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Plotter or pantser?



One of the questions you often get asked as an author is how you plan your books. Are you a plotter or a pantser? A plotter is a writer who likes to work out all the details of the plot first before wading into the writing. A plotter will work out the arc of the plot and the subplots and where they interact. They will write detailed character synopses and get to know their characters well and often will write subsidiary information which may not directly make it into the book but which informs the progress of the plot. A plotter will likely also have a timeline showing how the plot evolves chronologically and may also have plans for each chapter or section of the book. A pantser is someone who 'flies by the seat of their pants' and who starts writing straight away, allowing the writing and the characters to dictate the direction of their book. A pantser may change their mind as they are writing their book, understanding that due to the evolution of their characters, the story may work better if it is taken in a different direction. The pantser has a story bubbling in their mind, full of the voices of its characters who will lead their story.

So which one am I?

I am actually a combination of the two approaches - a 'plantser'. I plan the overall arc of my stories and have an idea of where I would like my characters to end up. I use flow diagrams a lot because they allow me to understand how and when the subplots interact. In my current work, Book 2 of The Emberjar, I have 4 pages of flow diagrams showing how the 4 subplots meet and mesh with each other. I also have a lot of written subsidiary information about the world in which my characters' lives are based which I can refer back to throughout the book. However, my books are primarily explorations of character, and, as such, my characters sometimes become more or less important in the story. Sometimes they suggest to me there are alternate ways to reach my final end goals for the book. Occasionally when I am writing, a different solution to a difficulty suggests itself to me and I fly with that. I prefer to be flexible because it allows me write full focused on my characters and their progression, but I also like to know where they are heading!

I think that perhaps how we approach our writing is similar to how we approach our lives, and considering whether we approach our life in a highly planned way or a more impulsive or intuitive way might give us some clues about our writing. In life, I am somewhat a planner, but don't like to have everything rigidly planned out, especially months in advance. Planning everything down to the smallest detail feels confining, and I think we can learn much more if we allow ourselves a freedom to explore and to adventure. Yes, sometimes it feels a little nerve wracking but the rewards can be greater.

So which one are you, or would you be? Do you like to plan or to go on impulse? Character driven or plot driven? Or perhaps a bit of both?


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