If you’ve been hanging around writer circles for a while, you’ve probably heard the topic come up – “which are you, Plotter or Pantser?” My answer is, invariably, it doesn’t matter. But before I get to that – and to why I find the whole damned topic infuriating – perhaps some definitions are required.
A “Plotter” is a writer that plots their story in advance. Not necessarily painstakingly or meticulously – they just sit down and plan things out before taking their ideas and developing them into the story at large.
A “Pantser” on the other hand (and to be honest, I just hate the term – I must be getting old) is the type of writer that writes by the seat of their pants. No plotting, no thinking about things in advance, just get in there and let the story play out as it will. Put romantically – let the characters speak for themselves.
For many, the debate is not just about “which one are you” but also “which one is better”… which is the right way to write. And that’s just stupid – and for new writers, it’s downright confusing. And perhaps even harmful.
Think about it – virtually every new writer that I’ve seen asking questions in writing circles will inevitably ask this question – how do I write a book? How much should I plan? How do you develop characters? And sadly, the most common response from writers is to use the “Plotter vs Pantser” response – “You’re either one or the other! Which one are you?”
What should the real response be, though? When it all boils down, writing isn’t hard. The concept is simple – take the words in your brain, and put them down on paper, either physical or digital. That’s it. How you choose to organise them is up to you – and there are a number of different ways to do this. The problem isn’t whether Plotting is too much of a waste of time or Pantsing is too risky, it’s working out what works for you.
Plotting can be great – it can help a writer develop a highly complex story. And Pantsing can be great, too – it can surprise even the writer, potentially making for an even more exciting read. But focusing on one or the other is just as detrimental – just write.
To me, the whole argument is less one of actually helping others, and more one of individuals trying to associate themselves with a clique – or potentially even a favourite writer. The amount of times I’ve seen a Pantser justify their preferred method by stating “Stephen King is a Pantser” is ridiculous.
Good for Stephen King. He’s clearly a genius. But I’m sure his drafts are extensive – I highly doubt the complexity of his books comes out in the first draft. The other thing, though? I’m not Stephen King. And on the Plotter side? I’m not J.K Rowling either. And I don’t want to be.
If I had to chose a side (and I really don’t want to, but here we are), I’d have to say that I’m probably a Plotter. But even then, I only plot so much – there is a lot that surprises me as part of the writing process, and some of the ideas that have cropped up “from the seat of my pants” (so to speak) have been good enough to warrant a change to the planned plot.
And I’d also argue that Stephen King thinks about his books a LOT while he writes them. He may not have a plot on paper, but I’d bet he has one in mind.
What makes writing hard isn’t so much the process, though, it’s the “finishing” part, in my opinion at least. Like I said in a previous post – never stop never stopping. Don’t let the plotting process slow you down so much that you never actually start writing the book. Don’t let it get in the way so badly that you have several other ideas, and you neglect this one to work on others. Don’t let the lack of a plot and a sense of direction for your novel allow you to suffer from writer’s block. Write that book until it is done.
I understand that the “Plotter vs Pantser” argument is just a bit of fun for writers, and perhaps I’m just a bit of a curmudgeon. My own personal gripes aside (that being that I think the argument is childish and an attempt to associate with one’s heroes), I think it’s harmful and confusing to new writers. I believe one famous writer even stated that Plotters are “hacks”. How lovely. That’s one way of suggesting that you’re better than everyone else (and I know I’m far from a great writer, but damn… let other people be proud of their work).
Again – I may just be a grumpy old man (or an old man in a younger man’s body, perhaps – I’m not old! Promise!), but my point is this, and always this – find your own path. Don’t let anybody steer you wrong. And FINISH. THE DAMNED. BOOK.