Hi SE Readers. Joan here today on this last week of January. The holidays are behind us. We’ve had time to make and break New Year’s resolutions. It’s time to get back to some serious writing. (Talking to myself with that last sentence.)
In the publishing world, you’ve probably heard there are two types of authors—plotters and pansters.
Plotters take time to delve deeply into their story before they write the first word. Many plan meticulous outlines. They know what will happen in chapter one as well as the final chapter. Some of them create detailed character sketches, conduct copious amounts of research, and develop the setting down to exact details.
Pansters, on the other hand, don’t plan at all. They may have a general idea such as, “I’m going to write a murder mystery that isn’t solved until twenty years after the fact.” A few character names and a basic setting are all they need to get started. A panster opens his or her writing software and begins to write without worrying about the details.
True plotters swear by their methods and can’t fathom writing a novel any other way. I once listened to a podcast by a well-known author who spoke about plotting and outlining. She stated it took her about nine months to plot a book and complete the outline. The actual writing took much less time.
During the question and answer session, I mentioned that I had completed about seventy-five percent of my first novel without outlining and ask for her suggestion on how to finish it. Her answer? Go back and write from scratch. She couldn’t imagine me being able to finish it otherwise and was even apologetic that I had gotten so far and would have to start over. I didn’t follow her advice.
Pansters love the thrill of writing by the seat of their pants. They allow the story to take them down the path to completion. Unexpected twists and turns are sure to happen. New characters plop into the story without warning. Unplanned events take place, which are often in direct contrast to what the writer intended. Because of this, pansters often have to rewrite or revise entire sections and chapters.
Most writers fall into one of these two categories. However, there is a third type of writer that I refer to as a Planster. I’m one of those.
I start with an idea and complete a simple outline. Unseen Motives is the first book of my Driscoll Lake Series, which I originally planned to be a stand-alone novel. I had a general idea for the plot: A young woman returns to her hometown twenty years after the suicide death of her father. While there, she discovers evidence he might not have killed himself and sets out to find the murderer.
I knew the identity of the killer and had ideas about certain events I wanted to happen. I began to develop my characters, one of whom who would know the real killer. Brian Nichols used that information to blackmail the antagonist into paying for his college education and helping him obtain a prominent position in a local law firm.
However, when I began to write his first scene, Brian began to speak to me. “I’m not a bad guy. I may be a bit of a rebel, but I’m not evil.”
No matter how hard I tried, the character wouldn’t allow me to continue. I made some quick changes, created two additional characters to fulfill that role, and allowed Brian to be one of the good guys. Even still, he wouldn’t let go. “I have a story to tell,” he said.
Hence, a sequel was born. Unknown Reasons tells Brian’s story. To date, he has been my favorite character, and it was my favorite book to write. And because I think a series must include at least three novels, I’m nearing completion of the third and final Driscoll Lake book, Unclear Purposes.
Once again, a character took me along a different path than I originally intended. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t appear somewhere in my next series.
Die-hard plotters likely can’t fathom changing things in mid-stream. Pansters can’t imagine spending months plotting and outlining. If you fall into either of these categories, and it works for you, keep going. But if you fall somewhere in between, why not listen to your characters? You might be surprised where they take you.