Do you plot your novel in detail before you even write the first word? (plotter).
Or do you start writing with nary a clue in which direction your story is heading? (pantser – writing by the seat of your pants!)
Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle – a plantser (like me!)
There are pros and cons of each approach, and you can switch between them, although your method will depend to some degree on your personality.
It can be very useful to know in advance how your story will end, and how it will get there. This allows you to use foreshadowing; and if you’re a crime writer, to lay the clues (and red herrings) as you go along.
If you know exactly how your story will pan out, it reduces wrong turnings, dead ends and the chances of you running out of steam along the way.
Careful plotting can reduce the number of plot holes that need to be ironed out during the editing process.
It reduces the risk of writer’s block, as you know exactly where your story is going, and the route it will take.
It can be a more efficient way of writing, as the story structure is already in place, so often less rounds of editing are needed (please note – you can never completely eliminate editing!)
However, some people find this approach very restrictive, as it does not allow for detours from the plan.
It is very exciting to see a story grow organically! Often the characters will take over, and dictate which way they want the story to go.
Some pantsers actually write the story out of order, and then slot it together afterwards (I’m a very orderly person and find this a bit strange, but several of my friends like to write this way!)
You get complete creative freedom at every stage of the writing process, as you’re not restricted to that plan that was written at the start.
However, it can take several drafts before you get the story right. This is a great way to start a writing journey and to write your first book, but is not ideal if you’re working to deadlines.
There are huge variations in plantsers, from those who write a brief outline, and have a rough idea of where they want the story to go, to those who write a detailed outline, even down to the scene level, but allow the story to go off-piste, adjusting the outline periodically to take account of these deviations.
This method allows for the creativity to continue unstifled, whilst maintaining discipline and ensuring the main plot is maintained, or improved.
Personally, I prefer this. I write a rough outline before I start, then write my first couple of chapters. This gets me ready to do my chapter-by-chapter plan. At various intervals, usually around halfway through, I write an updated plan accounting for the deviations from my original plot. It tends to bear minimal resemblance to the original!
I would love to hear from you in the comments. Are you a plotter, pantser or plantser? How do you make your approach work for you?