Part 3 – Panster or Plotter? What type of writer are you?
- The Pantster
- The Plotter
- Which of the two is the correct way to write?
- So what am I?
- Putter-inners and Taker-outers
“When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is tasked to its utmost – and will produce the richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.” – T.S. Eliot
Writing any lengthy piece of work will split authors into two camps. There are those who plan each step before they write and then there are those who will mull over an idea, scribble down a few notes and begin writing.
You are either a pantster or a plotter. So which type of writer are you?
Simply put, these are authors who don’t work to a set plan or outline. Instead, they might have a notebook full of hastily scribbled ideas and character musings. They might have an idea for the opening chapter or maybe they know how their story will end. Some of those notes might even be a thrilling scene that occurs in the middle of their piece of work.
Regardless of the sporadic nature of the ideas they’ve written down in their trusty notebooks, they will sit down and start writing, plucking ideas from their imagination as they type by the seat of their pants.
They may argue and defend their meandering writing with comments like letting their characters develop, allowing the imagination run or letting the story evolve. They will argue that the imagination should not be curbed or held back by rigid encirclement. And they are right, we have a fantastic imagination (some might say a Muse) that sets about prompting us with ideas and concepts the longer we sit down to write, and in no particular order.
Many people successfully publish their books this way.
Plotters are authors who will spend a long time planning, preparing, researching and organising their plots, scenes and characters before sitting down to write. Some might use post-it notes on a large storyboard while others might use software programs like Scrivener, Excel or Mindmaps to plan sequences of events.
The plotter will outline their novel or novella, on a chapter and scene basis, moving the blocks around to make sure that the story flows in a structured manner, thus ensuring a fluid read.
They will argue that there is no loss of creativity or discovery in this method. The immediate thrill of typing “Chapter one” will have to be postponed for a few weeks or months, but they argue that it is a small price to pay to ensure they don’t end up wandering into dead-end plotlines that pantsters will often experience
Many people successfully publish their books this way too.
Which of the two is correct, pantster or plotter?
Neither and both is the easy answer. I think a lot depends on what you want to produce from your writing.
If you only want to write two to three books as a hobby or over an extended period of your life as you go about your day job, then the excitement of the Pantster, who will always be editing, reworking, and culling, might be the choice for you. If the idea of following your character’s journey, which your imagination will create, excites you then writing by the seat of your pants could be for you.
If you want to write on a full-time basis, then you will have to keep producing a large quantity of published works (series or standalone) to make a living. Outlining and plotting will be more of a benefit to you. It is simply more efficient because you will not disappear into the distance of your story only to realise that you have painted yourself into a corner, and with a colour that you don’t like. This method allows you to work on two to three books at the same time, keeping your writing fresh and new. This is a process that you could typically follow.
- Outline book 1
- Outline book 2 (book 1 is then parked up, to allow your mind to refresh)
- Outline book 3 (book 1 and 2 are parked up)
- Write book 1 (book 2 and 3 are parked up)
- Write book 2 (book 1 and 3 are parked up)
- Write book 3 (book 1 and 2 are parked up)
- Rework book 1, etc.
I use this method to maintain the pressure on myself to keep writing, and it allows the work to remain fresh in your mind.
So, what am I?
I am a plotter and a firm believer in this method for me because even a small amount of outlining will be of huge benefit down the line. All humans have a skeleton within them that is made up of the same number of bones and which all look the same. How wonderfully different we all look on the outside once all the juicy filling has been added. Having a detailed outline is much like that skeleton, and it will not detract from the end product that you produce. I believe it will enhance it. It is easier and maybe less emotional to remove or discard a couple of lines in your outline than delete ten typed-up chapters because your character has come to a dead end. Outlining, in the end, is just more efficient.
Yes, I know it sounds more calculating and may lack the perceived romance of writing. If you want to make it your full-time career and be successful at it, you need to be more calculating in what you do.
I can write a novel in six to eight weeks because the planning allows me just to keep on writing once I get started. Remember, I might spend the previous three or four months outlining, researching and plotting each main character through the whole story.
Sure, things may change a little as you write, but any significant changes should only happen when you get your manuscript back from your editor. I am still studying my craft, and maybe in ten years’ time I could sit down and write a novel without structuring and planning it first, but that will be 12-15 books away.
Putter-inners and Taker-outers
Reading through many articles on the web, I can find no one else who claims to have first coined these two phrases, so let’s leave it at the feet of the giant, F Scott Fritzgerald. The terms putter-inners and taker-outers refer to how some authors write after their first drafts have been completed. These terms are a follow-on from the panster vs. plotter debate to describe another aspect of how authors write.
During the first draft, these authors and writers are the slow thinkers, the ponderers, the writers who mull over words and suffer long bouts of despair at a paragraph that isn’t working. They add descriptions and padding as they meticulously paint the full picture in the first writing sessions.
Typically, and there are exceptions, they will take years to complete the first draft of a novel or novella. If they were creating the human being from scratch, they would start with the head and spend weeks deciding on the hair and eye colour. Then, they would build the skull, agonising over the skin tone and texture to wrap it all in. At this stage, they would not contemplate working on the body. Now is not the right time to rush ahead.
So over time, these writers complete their first draft meticulously, and it’s then that they decide what take out of it. Their rework is about removing large portions of work that they deem not be suitable anymore.
They tend to be pansters more often than not.
Typically the putter-inner is the author, who knows what they want the story to be (an outline), so they type Chapter 1 and then plough through the entire first draft until they type The End. You will hear many of them use the term, vomit draft, for their first piece of work.
With the first draft done, it is now time for the rework stage, and that is when their second creative process begins. With each new draft the putter-inner produces, they add pieces to complete the whole. Descriptive passages are brought to life, action sequences are tightened up, one rework at a time.
If they built people, they would rapidly build the whole skeleton and then look back and smile. Now was time to add things. At each pass, they would add the muscles, nervous system, and vital organs then encase it in the skin.
More passes would yield curves and colour, moulded as a sculptor moulds clay.
My name is Wayne, and I am a plotter, putter-inner
Re-read the second page in the Writing Tip series – Part 2 – Ideas and Concepts
Or, move onto the fourth page – Part 4 – Outlines and plans
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