Writers are often categorised by their planning style – plotters or pantsers. Plotters are those writers who meticulously map out their characters’ motivations, fears, wants, showing the internal growth against the external narrative drive – set out in spreadsheets, taped on walls. They need to know all of this before they can start writing. J. K. Rowling is a plotter. Kate Forsyth is another plotter.
Pantsers (as in, write by the seat of your pants!) like to dive in to writing their novel, holding an image in their head, maybe a scene, maybe a couple of characters who want different things and cross paths. Maybe they know there’s a murder at the beginning, perhaps they have a clear vision of a child’s birthday party or a revealing conversation at a beach in Mexico. Michael Robotham and A. L. Tait are pantsers.
Of course, there’s a spectrum, with vague plotters and outlining pantsers.
For my first book, I tried the pantsing method. I dove in, thinking that all ‘real’ writers knew exactly what they were doing, had a muse of inspiration sitting at their shoulder and that the right words in the right order would naturally flow. Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of tension or conflict, my story meandered and there were definitely whole chapters that were fairly pointless.
Then I decided to rewrite it. This time, I drew internal character arcs against external narrative plot points. I questioned every single character about their motivation, their childhood, their biggest fear, their greatest want and mapped them in contrast to each other. I meticulously plotted each chapter, determining the purpose, setting, character growth, narrative reveal in a table which was indeed a thing of beauty. But when I came to write it, the writing a was a little flat. Actually, flatter than a footy oval after it’s been mown.
I did rewrite that first book with a new direction but that’s a long story for another post.
I’m now starting to write another novel, following a very loose way of plotting. I’m working my way through Alan Watt’s book, The 90 day novel. He offers a different approach with stream-of-consciousness exercises in five minute blocks to discover what your story is about.
I love it! I love this way of writing – it feels loose and free. I feel like I’m working on my book and progressing it but without forcing myself to think about the structure too much. Watt recommends spending the first 30 days daydreaming about your characters, using prompts to write from your character’s viewpoint such as:
- The thing that I try to keep hidden is …
- Justice will be done when …
- The most cowardly thing I’ve ever done is …
- If you knew me before, you would have said …
- I couldn’t live without …
There’s also a section on structure so you can think about your three acts and the major plot points in them.
I am only a little way into my novel but already I can see it starting to take shape. It feels so joyful to write like this.
As for the 90 day promise, that will depend upon the amount of freelance editing work I have on my desk, whether my kids are sent home from school due to the coronavirus and how much writing I can fit in during the Easter holidays.
This stream-of-consciousness writing feels as insubstantial as the dandelions the woman in the photo above is blowing, the seeds dispersed anywhere and everywhere in a single breath. It also feels as freeing as the tiny seeds floating in the breeze and as full of possibility as a child wishing on a dandelion.