One of the big questions writers ask each other is “are you a plotter or a pantser?” I know it doesn’t sound big, certainly not the most earth-shattering issue, but go on, dip your toe in this creative minefield and ask a writer whether they plan every detail before they write or just go for it. Just ask, if you dare.
I can see the appeal of plotting, the certainty, the sense of knowing where you’re going, but it just never works for me, so I’ve been a pantser since… forever. Now, suggest being a pantser to a dedicated plotter and put your fingers in your ears to block out the screams of anguish.
So, if you ask me, I’m a pantser, and proud of it. Simple, yes? What could possibly go wrong? OK, that’s a much bigger question.
Last year I got sucked into the Black Hole Of Pantser – a murky Shadowland of creativity. I knew how my story started (I was a third of the way in, after all), and I knew how it needed to end. I’d just written a crazy scene that tied my flawed hero in more knots than a troop of boy scouts could ever undo in one lifetime. It was wonderful, completely crazy, and I could see the ending in the distance… just one more step… wait… who turned my lights out?
The friable subsoil of my plot crumbled under my feet and dropped me into a black hole, the chasm between where I had reached and where I needed to finish. I had no idea what came next. I didn’t even have a spare box of matches to set fire to my fingers. If I were Indiana Jones, there would be snakes as well.
Anyone else down here? Hello? It’s lonely in the Black Hole of Pantser.
I did the only thing I could think of – logged on to my favourite writing community and screamed for help. I wasn’t looking for an actual answer, just fellow writers to say the necessary things: there, there, I’m sure it will be fine; put the coffee on; try writing a plot outline.
Nobody had the answer, but that wasn’t the point. I was stuck. I needed an open space (other than the black hole) where I could scream frustration and not get escorted away by qualified medical professionals. I needed people who understood.
Then I went and wrote some more. Any old rubbish. What my hero did next, minute by minute. How often did he trip over his own feet? How many books on knots could he find in the library? Write and write, until I could see light.
I wrote my way around the Black Hole and accidentally backed into the Cave of Random Rubbish. It’s amazing what you can find in there, and even the gloom of the Hole looks bright in comparison… And there, under a tatty piece of inspiration, was a big tub of Expanding Plot Hole Filler, more than enough to patch over the gap and take me all the way to the ending. (Oh, and according to the packet, it contained 90% Completely Bonkers, so that was perfect for me.)
Now, if only I had a plan, I would never have got into that mess. Would never have spent an hour or two online, sharing woes and jokes with other writers. Would never have had the pleasure of finding my unexpected way out of the hole over the course of several days “writing blind”.
If only I had a plan, I would be a completely different writer.
Plotter or pantser? An apparently trivial question that is intricately entwined in how we create. Go on, ask the question, and be prepared for a long, long answer.
This trivial big question is like being left or right handed. Liking or loathing marmite. It’s twisted tightly through the core of the writer’s creative heartland.
Go on, ask the question.
OMP Admin Note: Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry, and sheep.
He can be found online at his blog (writeedge.blogspot.com), his website (https://sites.google.com/site/markhuntleyjames/), and occasionally on that new-fangled social media thing (tw: @MarkH_J, fb: @MarkHuntleyJames)