I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.
Those are from the words of Stephen King, the often titled the King of Horror, and he deserved that title even if his last name wasn’t “king”. However, that may not work for everyone. At ThrillerFest 2019, we here at Bookstr were able to sit down and listened to various authors debate this question. The question, in short, is this: Are you a plotter, or a pantser?
Before we run down a series of quotes and top this article off with a “just write” ending, let’s back up and define our terms.
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A plotter is someone who plots their story beforehand. J. K. Rowling is a prime example of a plotter.
A pantser is someone who writes their story “by the seat of their pants”. This means that, well, they make the story up as they go along. Stephen King is a prime example of a pantser.
Are you a Pantser?
Pantsers wing it
Those are from the words of Camille Minichino, at least that was the name we called her during ThrillerFest. She’s gone by many names, including Margaret Grace, Ada Madison, or Jean Flowers. Either way she’s written over twenty novels and many, many more short stories to boot, so it’s safe to say she knows what’s talking about.
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According to Camille, pantsers are often “very bored” and like to “take the journey with the characters.” Does this sound like you? Then maybe you’re a pantser.
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I’ve learned the hard way to get a really book down fast
Those words come from Tom Rosenstiel. Author, journalist, researcher and media critic, he’s “one of the nation’s most recognized thinkers of the future of media.” He’s also written two novels and nine books in total. In fact, his third novel, Oppo, is set for a December release.
Tom notes that making himself to write the book fast “[forces] myself to be more shark-like” in the editing process. He said that he finds that posted notes he has are “useless” and while he has an outline, he doesn’t tend to stick to it.
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Making it up is really fun
That’s from Bryan Gruley, who was nominated for the “first novel” Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America for Starvation Lake, notes that. On that book, Bryan notes that, “I tried to outline my first book” but it didn’t work.
Interesting! Even through he’s by nature a list-maker, he finds that outlines are “confining.” He just writes and keeps writing, not bothering rewriting what he wrote the day before. For the record, he writes two hours a day, five-hundred words a day.
Are you a PLOTTER?
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Now if you’re a plotter, or think you might be, then you’re not alone. Not only were many of the authors at this conference plotters, but some of the best quotes came from them, including this one:
It’s not like I’m going to discover new words by writing
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James Hankins, a former screenwriter then lawyer and now author, is a self-described plotter and proud of it. He likes plotting because he “hates wasting time” and would like you to know that, “I don’t have a terror of the blank page as much as a poorly written page from the day before.”
Makes sense. Critics don’t write scathing reviews about blank pages, they tear into poorly written pages.
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Joining James on the plotters side of things is Wendy Walker. When James put the in the coffin and said he hates “pantsing” because “It’s not like i’m going to discover new words by writing” (sorry, love that quote) she smiled and declared, “We have the same brain!”
Wendy Walker is a a former commercial litigator and investment banker who now pumps out thriller. Guess what she is? Well, considering this is the plotting section, she’s, of course, a plotter! Taking a page from the screenwriting gurus of our time, Wendy writes a six-to-seven page outline to help her with her book. Some of it is even on index cards. “Without them I’m scared,” she confesses. It helps her organize her thoughts.
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This is J.H. Bográn and he is an international author of novels, short stories, and scripts for film and TV. He’s also a plotter, and he structures his novels on a spreadsheet template chapter by chapter. This allows him to jump around. If he feels like it, he can jump straight to the torture scene.
This caused quite a bit of laughter, considering that he’s the Resource Development Manager for Habitat for Humanity Honduras.
Bográn also notes that he’s has an interesting routine. Since he runs a restaurant, he tends to sit in front of a computer all day. Thus, by the end of the day, he’s really tired of staring at the screen. . Thus he writes the first draft of his novel using pen and pencil and a notebook. He considers his typed draft to be his second draft. Let’s hope what happens to Paul Sheldon in Misery doesn’t happen to him.
Are you both a Pantser and a plotter?
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So what is the take-away here? If you’re a pantser just write, and if you’re a plotter you should write your first draft by hand? What if you’re neither? What if you’re both?
If you’re both, then you are what we in the business call a “hybrid,” and, in fact, most writes are. The whole plotter vs pantser thing isn’t a binary one or the other, but rather, in the words of James Hankins, “[i]t’s a spectrum.” Pretty powerful considering he’s the guy who said he doesn’t write by the seat of his pants because” “It’s not like I’m going to discover new words by writing”.
Camille Minichino notes that she’s written five series already and thus knows the characters by now. Why plot a novel? But even through she’s a pantser, she notes that, “doesn’t mean you don’t know the ending or the major plot points.”
Bryan Gruley notes that even though he doesn’t know the ending, he “sees chapters ahead, just not the whole book.”
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“How do you set up a dinner party?” Camille asks, “How do you approach it?”
When you have an answer to that question, then just apply that method to writing a book.
Do what the story requires.
Tom BLANK gives us this quote, and it’s right. Just sit down and write the story, word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page, write and type, write and type. And if you’re waiting for inspiration, well, in the words of Bryan BLANK:
You can’t wait around for inspiration. You gotta hunt it down with a club
So have fun, or as Brogan says, “Sit at the typewriter and bleed,” and remember the words of Stephen King:
To write is human, to edit is divine.
Featured Images Via Hollywood Reporter, Liberal Dictionary, and Parade