Sunday, 13 May 2012

Pantsers and plotters and plontsers

Today, the topic I've chosen to write about is something dear to the hearts of most writers. It's one of the most fundamental questions that must be considered when you're thinking about how to approach writing. And it's one that I've had to answer numerous times over the many author interviews I've done.

The question is - are you a plotter or a pantser?

I've always found it a bit difficult to answer. My writing approach has always been somewhat in the middle. Normally, I would definitely think of myself as a plotter, in pretty much all aspects of my life. I don't generally do anything without putting a heap of thought and consideration into what it is I'm doing. Often, I'll write out long detailed lists, or fill sheets of paper with various pros and cons of whatever it is I plan to do. In short, I'm perhaps just a teensy bit on the anal side.

Of course, I've transferred this approach to my writing. I'll usually write out detailed lists of things like chapter outlines and character descriptions, and I've even been known to map out exactly how to structure the dramatic (and also comedic) highpoints of my story - all the hallmarks of your classic plotter.

Except when I don't. On the odd occasion, I have been known to sit down at my computer with no end in mind and just start writing. It's how my first novella, Doodling came to me. I started with a throwaway line about the world moving so fast that somebody fell off and I just went from there. It's also how I've approached the sequel to Doodling, which is now well on the way. Classic pantsing, you might think.

But it's never quite as simple as that. Even with the pantsing, there ends up being quite a bit of plotting involved. As Doodling developed, it was threatening to turn into an aimless, pointless, plotless collection of random encounters. In order to take it from there, quite a bit of plotting ended up happening. Chapters were rewritten, new chapters added, and quite a few chapters were deleted, resulting in something that actually held together as a proper story (then again, some readers have still felt that the final product was an aimless, pointless, plotless collection of random encounters).

And when I look back at the other stories, like Flidderbugs and Magnus Opum, that were quite carefully plotted out, I realise that there was quite a bit of pantsing involved as well. With both of these, I was well into the stories before I actually figured out how they would be resolved. In Magnus, there's a section near the end where the characters enter a labyrinth, in order to buy a bit of time on their mission. This was actually me buying a bit of time for myself as I still hadn't worked out how it would end. Luckily things worked out in the end (for both Magnus and his companions, and also for me).

So there you have it. As a pantser, I'm really a bit of a plotter. And as a plotter, I'm really a bit of a pantser. That's why I've had to come up with a third type of writing approach that combines the two. I've decide that I'm a plontser.

Whether you're a pantser or a plotter or a plontser like me, I hope you're writing continues to sparkle and amaze, and I hope you have a great week.


  1. I have always wished I was a plotter. I imagine them sitting down over a cup of coffee and a garibaldi, laying out who does what, when and where and then all they have to do is fill in the blanks over the next few months. I’ve tried using existing novels as templates—I’m still trying with this current project—and they do help—I owe debt of gratitude to Patrick Süskind whose novella The Pigeon got me started on my first book, Samuel Beckett whose novella Mercier and Camier forms the core to Milligan and Murphy and Don DeLillo whose novella (another novella!) The Body Artist gave me some of the themes I explored in Left—but I never really know where things are going or how they’re going to end, with the single exception of Milligan and Murphy where the ending was inevitable and all I had to do was get my protagonists there. I don’t even plot short stories but most of them are really just slices of life anyway.

    1. Hi Jim,

      I know the feeling - I've also used other books as templates.

      I think the fun part is making up your own rules for how you're most comfortable as a writer.

  2. I so love this debate, as I'm also a bit of both (leaning toward Pantser). I wrote up my own thoughts on it at my blog, while avoiding sitting down to actually write -- something I am doing at this very moment.

    1. Hi Andy,

      Liked your post - funny as I'm also a reformed computer programmer (don't tell anyone).

      Actually, to be honest, a procrastinator is what I am most of the time - think there's something for another post there.

  3. Thanks for sharing this interesting information. But I guess I like the idea of being a plotter. It prevents your story from wandering because you have a guide on what your story will be. And I guess it is an organized way of writing.