Plotters, Pantsers, and Plantsers: What does it all mean??
If you're interested in writing a novel, you've probably read something about plotters vs. pantsers. You've probably heard someone use the term "discovery writer". (If you read this blog you have, because I've classified myself that way before.) You also probably wonder what it all even means. All you wanted to do was find an article on "how to write a novel" and now you're in this rabbit hole of classifications and advice from a million sources that all say something different about the process and what steps to take to get the story in your head out on the page.
I'd love to say I'm here to solve the problem for you, to explain it all away in my infinite writing wisdom, but...hah, I don't have any of that.
I can, however, help clarify it a bit with my own experiences and maybe shed some light on the ups and downs of whatever direction you decide to follow.
First, a random thing that I want to throw out: If you're not already following me on Facebook, I'd LOVE it if you did. My hope if you hit 130 followers by next month, and I'm five away! Here's the link if you would be so kind. Also feel free to follow the Instagram and Twitter and Amazon and all that as well.
Ok, now that I'm done shilling myself, let's get back to the topic. What do all these classifications even mean? Let's start with plotters -
Plotters are the people that write out a detailed outline of the entire story before they even start on the first page. They know the beginning, middle, and end of the story already. They know what scenes they need to have to make the plot move forward. They usually know a lot about their characters, and their world, and how they all interact. They know who's going to betray the main character before they're even introduced. This is great if you can do it, and I think highly of people that can, because their stories are usually much more thought out in terms of plot. I'm sure they also have a lot cleaner first drafts, and a lot less rewriting to do when it's all said and done. Impressive.
Pantsers are the exact opposite. Also known as discovery writers. They just start writing, winging it left and right as they steam ahead through the story. Do you decide halfway through writing a novel that the main character would be better off being female? Did you realize that the modern day vampire story you're working on fits so much better in ancient Roman times? You're a pantser and you better get to rewriting the entire first half of that book! The fun here is that you never really know what will happen, what characters will show up in the story, where the love interest will come from. Nothing. You know nothing, except that the muse speaks directly through you with little to no ability to control it. You're a vessel for creativity. Awesome! Also painstaking.
Then you have plantsers, the middle ground of these two opposing forces. They might jot down a quick one page outline, knowing roughly how the story travels from beginning to end, and what major points they need to hit along the way. They might have a small cast of main characters that they know need to show up at some point. They have an idea of the setting, and what they're trying to get across. They think they have the best of both worlds, but really it's just organized chaos in most respects. Plotters think they're too wild, pantsers think they're too structured. It's an odd space.
Obviously, there's no right or wrong way to write a book, and I'm not here to say one is better than the other, I'm just here to give you my opinion on the matter. So here we go.
As with everything in life, it's a spectrum, and I fall firmly in the category of plantser, but I prefer "discovery writer" because it sounds more professional. When I start a book, I usually have a few basic things in mind that I want to accomplish. However, those things are always different. When I started working on Fall Winds, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to read a story that followed the killer as if he were the main character. That seemed like an interesting concept to me, and wasn't something I was easily able to find already out there. I'm sure there's a ton of them, but they were hiding from me. As I got deeper into the story and realized I needed some other elements to make it an actual story, I discovered the detective and his film noir attitude. I discovered the victim, who at first was just a vessel for the killer to...well, kill. She turned out to be a much more resilient and able woman than I ever expected, so much so that by the time I was nearing what felt like the end of the story, killing her off seemed like the furthest thing from my mind. She was going to live, and she was going to fight. Psyconics was much the same, I think the starting concept for it was "what if we made a drug that cured mental illness?". That's not the basis of a story though, at least not the kind that I like to write. So it shifted to "what if we make a drug that cures mental illness but also gives people mind powers?". Beyond that, I didn't know anything else except I wanted to make this a full length novel, so I'd need a fair cast of characters. I think Psyconics was where I really found what worked for me. I'd write a chapter and then brainstorm what needed to happen next, jot that down, and then move to the next. It was like plotting after the fact and made me feel like I kind of knew what I was doing. By the time I started working on The Path of the Divine Order, I'd refined the process but also still didn't know how things would go. For that one, all I really had was the ending. I knew how I wanted the story to wrap up, and what I was looking to get from it, but I had no idea how I would get there. As it proceeded, I was met with one of the joys/sorrows of discovery writing. The main character, in the heat of the moment, had created an artificial intelligence. That wasn't expected in the story at all, but it became the entire catalyst for it.
That's the joy of discovery writing for me, letting the characters do what they will and then trying to reign that into a workable book. Of course, at the end of the day, the writer is really the one in control, but when you get to that state where you're watching the scene play out in your head and transcribing it to the page, you never really know what can come about. Sometimes, it's all wrong and you have to rewind and start from the beginning, taking a different path to see if it's better or worse. It's like a choose your own adventure book, except you don't have to prove to someone you never took your finger off the page.