Writer T. James' Exploration of Words, on the Internet.

What kind of writer are you: ‘Plotter’ or ‘Pantser’; Killer or Loon?

I came across several articles on the ‘net recently asking the question, “What type of writer are you?” Do you write by pre-planning the scenes and plot-lines within your story, i.e. are you a ‘plotter’?

Or, do you write by making-it-up-as-you-go-along, “By the seat of your pants,” i.e. are you a ‘pantser‘?

My instant response was, “WHAT?” I have the choice of being a subversive, probably sadistic, psychopathic author of nefarious conspiracy, or being named after a traditional British male undergarment*.

I do not want to be either of these extremes. It means facing the prospect that either I will likely kill several people in an attempt to overthrow the government, or that wearing a dirty white undergarment head-warmer and graphite passage-cleaners as fashion accessories while repeatedly shouting “wibble”, will be  my future as a writer. The unspeakable stress and long-term emotional damage of being forced to face such a choice has been incalculable. I may even have grounds to sue. Yet, as I pondered my fate, realisation dawned that, however awful these futures may be, there was an alternative that was infinitely worse. I could be both.

Then again, may be I am neither. Debate (‘rages’ may be too strong) on various writing blogs about which is best. The more sensible commentators  outline the strengths and weaknesses of each. I don’t really know which I am, or whether the way I have found I write is the ‘best’ way. I think most writers have their own natural method, which, if they can find it, will mean they will be more productive, creative, and enjoy the process of writing more. I have only been actively writing for a short space of time, but coming at it without formal training has meant I’ve just fallen into doing-what-I-do. I write in story arcs, telling the story of each character as a linear series of events. As the book progresses of course these threads will interweave, and it can get complex unravelling them. I will also have to superimpose the structure of a novel(s) with chapters on top of the narrative after all this is done. I usually have a plan for  the next scene, and maybe the next few scenes; but when I don’t I can switch to another story arc and carry that forward. I have potential plans for the middle and end of the story, and I find being able to switch from one story arc to another feeds into the overarching plot of the book, growing it organically. If things don’t make sense I go back and insert extra scenes, or sometimes even extra characters to get past any ‘blocks’.

I am not proposing the way I do things as a  method for anyone else, but so far it is working well for me. The discussion about what ‘type’ (sic) of writer you are is helpful in so far as it can provoke a little introspection, and experimentation in the way you tackle your own writing. If you are worrying what type of writer you are, don’t. The writer you really are will be measured by what you create, not the method you use to create it.


*N.B. The use of the term ‘underpants’ refers, in this case, to a deeply un-sexy traditional British male undergarment, a.k.a. a pair of  ‘Y-fronts’. The name originates from the particular pattern of hem and stitching at the front of the garment forming an inverted letter ‘Y’. It is recommended they be utilised only to fulfil their inherent comic potential, and anything else is worn, in case of an accident and you have to go to hospital. The social convention in this instance is, if you have to wear underpants, then they must be clean.


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  1. SLWestendorf

    Ha! You sound like an ‘organic’ writer, something akin to a panster LOL. I – am a plotter. I must have structure in my life, when I am pretending to know what I am doing ;)

    I have read and have been told repeatedly, there is no right or wrong way, only your way. I’m holding to that, I think it is solid advice. We all reach our destination via different vehicles, and arrive at different times. It is the journey which makes it all worth while. I plan to have fun with mine :D

    • T. James

      Hi SLW, thank you for the post (is SLW too informal?). I’ve not heard the term ‘organic’ writer before; it sounds rather like someone who is so completely absorbed in their storytelling that they forget to wash (to anyone else reading this, a note – underpants alone are NOT a legitimate, or acceptable form of all-day attire).

      As for you being a ‘plotter’ I think I envy you a little. Writing, and knowing exactly where you are going sounds reassuring. As I approach what I’m coming to know as my ‘abyss’, the dark place beyond which I have no more ideas, I still tend to get a little edgy, but I don’t think I will ever be bored.

  2. SLWestendorf

    Try http://baara.com/q10/ it is a free writing software – it may help with sorting out ‘hitches’ in the writing plan. It still allows you the freedom to be ‘organic’ aka wild, unihibited, much like wearing underpants on your head!

    • T. James

      Thank you for the tip. I will take a look. (Underpants are essential for writing. They channel the cosmic waves).

  3. Danielle La Paglia

    I’m a loose plotter myself. I have a basic idea of the beginning, middle and end. I write up plot cards that give me a loose order to follow. Then I write. Things get mixed around a bit and new plot threads and characters are added as I go (though I don’t go back to fix the beginning until the the first draft is done). So I let things grow organically within the confines of my loose plot. :)

    • T. James

      Thanks for the comment. You seem to work in a similar way to me, although you seem to have more planned in advance. I like the creativity and flexibility you mention, but having to go back and sort out any inconsistencies afterwards can be a pain if I’m brimming with ideas for the next part. Plotters don’t have this revision problem so much I imagine, they are free to move forward with fewer delays. I guess plotting is probably the more efficient form of writing, but maybe lacking a little of the thrill.

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