By Jenny Hilborne, author of mysteries and thrillers
That is...to plot or to pant.
Until I saw all the panster v plotter discussions on the various writers forums, it never occurred to me there might be different types of writers. I assumed, rather ignorantly probably, that writers opened up their manuscripts, be it longhand or typed, and just wrote the story in their head.
I might have a working title and an idea of a story when I start, but I never know what's going to come out of my fingertips until I'm at my desk in front of my laptop. I don't even know if I have enough for a short, a novella, or a full-length novel until I start writing.
As I understand the definitions, a plotter knows all the events of the story in advance and follows the route they mapped out to get the story from beginning to end. A panster writes the events as they occur in the writer's mind and has no idea how they will get to the end until they get there. From what I read in the discussions, each type of writer fiercely defends their own style and some have a hard time understanding the other.
The dictionary definition of "plotting" is: secretly make plans to carry out (something illegal or wrong). Very appealing to all mystery/thriller writers. Plotting is also to mark a route or position. Maybe it's my horrible sense of direction (or my inability to concentrate for long periods of time), but I cannot plot. I've tried it and screwed up the bits of paper in frustration. Plotting (for me) hampers my creativity. I begin to feel like I'm following a formula and falling into old routines. I'm a true panster.
Whenever I write, without a map, it reminds me of a time when I drove with my parents from La Havre to Versailles and detoured off the road map we brought with us at every available opportunity. We wanted to escape the regular "route" and explore all the intricate little places we would have missed, or never even known about, if we stuck to the map. These places are hidden surprises, and often gems. I like to think of it when I write, not knowing where I'll end up or what I might find along the way.
I googled to "fly by the seat of your pants", which is from where I imagine the term "panster" originates. It means: to pilot a plane by feel and instinct rather than by instruments. This about sums up how I feel when I write without any guide. I find it more thrilling, more energizing. I certainly wander off track and sometimes get lost, but I always find my way back - often on a surprising path and one I couldn't have plotted ahead of time, if I'd tried.
I'm intrigued by plotters. I imagine they must be extremely organized, detailed people with a clear idea of where they want to go. I imagine the editing process is less time-consuming for them.
I have a decent plot and numerous twists in my finished products, even though I'm not a plotter. Sometimes when I read, I can predict the ending of the book because of the way the plot is constructed and I wonder if the writer is a "plotter."
There is no answer and no write (pardon the pun) or wrong about the difference in styles. It's interesting to me how often this topic comes up in the writing forums. I've even seen these debates turn quite heated. I'd like to have some snazzy ending to this blog post, but, as you now know, I can't plot anything out in advance........