It’s said that writers fall into two types: the plotter versus the ‘pantser,’ more politely described as a ‘discovery writer.’
The discovery writer likes to ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ (hence ‘pantser’) and write without an outline for their plot. ‘Free-writers’ is the more recognised name for them. Plotters meticulously plan the whole thing in advance and effectively write to their own brief.
Is one better than the other?
Is one more productive than the other?
Is one easier to edit than the other?
More best-selling authors are plotters than pantsers. J.K. Rowling is an archetypal plotter. Stephen King is perhaps the most famous and biggest selling pantsers. I don’t particularly like King’s method of throwing random fuzzy felt at the sticky wall. I can see him free-writing his way into trouble that he can’t or won’t then get out of. What do I know? King is a multi-million seller.
Free-writing is good for generating ideas. Plotting is good for keeping things tight as the draft progresses. Plotting also allows you to set up structure and stay on course from beginning to end.
Some writers like the freedom of generating ideas, characters and scenes as they go, excited to see where it takes them. The good ones can ‘feel’ their way through plot and character arcs in their discovery writing. They hate the idea of mapping out the whole thing before they start. The free writers scorn the formulaic nature of plot structures and templates. Which gives their editors early coronaries and a drinking problem. Reportedly a lot more editing goes on in ‘discovery’ manuscripts than plotted ones. But how many drafts and how many rewrites does each type of author go through? There’s no empirical answer.
If plotting and free writing are the two ends of a scale, then most of us are somewhere along the axis.
With the latest challenge, my ideas have come from free-writing, along with key characters, set-pieces and snippets of dialogue. The overall shape of the plot and characters arcs, however, are now mapped out in a giant spreadsheet. This is also my master editing tool.
The draft in progress, though, has as much free-writing in it, as I join-the-dots between all those plot points and snippets. All sorts of character and action materialise in the process.
Maybe it’s not a case of one or the other? Maybe it’s the best of both worlds?