10 February 2013

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

No. Don't answer that. It's a stupid question. Or rather, it's one of those spurious discussions novel writers - especially those of us new to the game - find ourselves engaged in every so often. There isn't a writing forum I've been on that hasn't thrashed out the pros and cons of either and sometimes it can get heated.Just Google it and you'll get pages and pages of the stuff.

For those of you who haven't met this hardy perennial, the nuts and bolts of the debate are that novel writers fall into two distinct camps. There are the Plotters (capital p) who plan everything out in detail: they decide what is to happen in every chapter, some write wall charts with timelines and character details, some ending up with a thick notebooks full of all the vital information they need. Everything is in place so that once they start writing, they rattle on without any stalling or back-tracking. They end up writing few drafts, maybe even one only.

The Pantsers (another capital p) are so-called because they fly by the seat of their pants - although in English-English they should be called 'Trouserers'.) They start writing with only a vague idea of what or who their novel is about. They just begin and fathom out what's happening and who their characters are as they go along. Pantsers say that they would be bored stiff if they already knew the minutiae of the story before they begin writing it.

As I said, the argument rages on and on.

I mean, does it really matter how you write a novel? Does it matter to anyone else but you whether you use a crisp bright blue notebook or write in longhand with a Mont Blanc pen? It's what matters to you and your novel. There's not point in trying to force yourself into a method used by a novelist you admire or adore or both because that must be the right way to do it.

Look, let's be honest. There isn't a novelist in the world who doesn't plan his or her novel. Whether that panning consists of paperwork or mulling things over when taking the cat for a walk or using the back of envelopes to jot down notes when you're peeling the spuds?  And whether they plan it first or things just seem to fall into place as they write matters not one whit. Whether they only need one read-through to correct typos  or whether they write ten drafts or twenty drafts, makes no difference. There are no rules. And neither one is one method better than the other. What counts is the finished product. Some people clean their house to a weekly timetable like my mother does. If it's Wednesday, then it's change the sheets day. Me? I do these jobs when I can't stand the muck and mess any longer.Guess what? It gets done.

All that matters is the end result. There are no right ways or wrong ways. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

In my next post on this occasional series I call Back to Basics, I will talk about the tyranny of the daily word count.


  1. Or in my case, I pay someone else to keep the house clean! But your point still stands.

    I think that it's human nature to make categories and try and fit people into them. It's just not always terribly helpful.

  2. It doesn't matter to the end result, but I always enjoy reading how other people go about their writing, and have picked up many a great tip along the way - things which work for me.

    (I'm a plotter. Tried Pantsing a couple of times - those are the unfinished novels.)

  3. I'm a mapmaker: one sheet of paper. a single line across the middle. mark 1 at the beginning of the line and 6 at the other end then divide it up in six part sketch out your plot highlighting key pointsin story.
    Now I have a rough idea of what might happen along the way as I'm writing. I do like to have some idea of where I'm going otherwise I might waste my time going places I don't need to go. I wouldn't want to plot everything otherwise I might miss out uncovering some unexpected plot ideas as I'm writing my novel.

  4. And then there are the novels that wont be written the same way as the last and demand that you change your ways completely.... (aaagh).

  5. With each succeeding novel I add a soupçon more plotting to my blind hurtling, especially important when it's a thriller I'm trying to write, but that said I'd got several chapters done before I knew who was going to die, and at 50K words I still don't know who did it ... but then I don't have a deadline and am writing to a certain extent to hone my craft.