A bit like the war between the vampires and werewolves in Underworld, the battle between plotters and pantsers has been going on since time immemorial…well at least since blogs and twitter and all this messy social media stuff was invented. And it’s not really a battle, more a divergence of views on the writing process.
For those of you who don’t know:
A plotter…plots. The book or story is mapped out. ‘A’ happens in chapter one, ‘Z’ in the final chapter and in between B happens, C happens, D happens and so on. The writer has considered all the pitfalls, knows where he or she is going, is confident the story works and is able to build suspense effectively.
The pantser…well the pantser flies by the seat of his or her pants. They get up one morning, sit down at their writing desk, have an idea, start at ‘A’ and dive headlong in. The creative juices flow, the coffee cups pile up as the flames of creativity ignite the keyboard.
A plotter can follow the plot
A plotter can take a break, get interrupted, without losing the thread. Plotters can afford to take their time because they have their map, they know where they are going.
A pantser must keep going at all costs
They can’t stop. If they stop, the muse will be gone.
Then what will happen?
The unfinished tome, the greatest novel in history, will languish there, somewhere on the hard drive. So they keep rushing on, panicked by the fall of night, alarmed that their fingers are beginning to ache. They must keep the muse there…must keep the magic flowing…
But they must stop…they must…and so they come back the next day, but the muse is not quite the same. It’s had a few different ideas and it’s got a blinding hangover…Now the pantser has to fight the muse, wrestle it back from semi-consciousness, regain the flow that kept them going all through the day before…the muse resists, it doesn’t want to play today…and before you know it you’ve killed off your main character by the end of page 40 and sit their weeping till your better half comes in, tuts and says:
Maybe you should plot it next time.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating. Having been a pantser at one time, I feel I’ve earned the right to go slightly over the top. There’s enough lonely manuscripts lying at the bottom of my closet courtesy of my ill-advised pantsing regime.
You see, I used to believe the myth which most pantsers roll out when you challenge them on the way they write.
Plotting destroys the creativity. It limits the writer. It’s not as much fun. Better to free the muse, let your characters roam like organic chickens in the fertile corridors of your keenly artistic mind. You see, what pantsers think is that there’s a whole story magically stored in their heads that, if given enough encouragement, will find its way onto the page. They have characters and a situation and they let them loose together without regard to the consequences. The story will decide itself.
It’s a beautiful, true creativity.
Alas, this is writer’s hokum. I’ve lost count of the number of failed novels where the muse has led the writer astray halfway through, the characters that just pop up out of nowhere for no other reason than the muse dictated it at the time, the dead ends crashed through with reckless abandon until the story, and often the main character, fall over the literary cliff face down into the dark, oily pit of plot despair.
Plotting keeps your novel on level ground. It isn’t some chore to be got through before you get down to the really enjoyable bit of writing.
It is part of the creative process.
And, it will save you time. If your plot is already sound then all you have to worry about when you come to editing and proofing your novel is the actual words and passages that make it up.
If you finish a pantsed novel then you have to leave it a considerable amount of time to come back to it as new. Then you have to twist and change the plot so that it makes sense, all without having a nervous breakdown. You have to rewrite huge tracts that don’t work, resisting the temptation to squeeze square pegs into round holes.
That’s if you actually get round to finishing it in the first place. I have no evidence for this, but I suspect that more plotted novels get completed that pantsed novels. The reason is that pantsed novels can so easily go off the rails. If you’re a pantsers whose novel has never, ever, cross your heart and hope to die, gone off the rails, I salute you.
With two fingers. I think you’re a big fat liar.
So from now on, I’m going to be a plotter. I’m gonna plot that damn thing till it’s nice and straight and perfect and…my hair falls out and my nails are all chewed because that damn plot…it’s a tricky old devil…
And one more thing, before I go: Pantsers, pantsed, pantsing…I guess word has underlined them in red because they don’t exist.