- A writer who focuses primarily on plot to drive a narrative, with the hope that the characters will come along for the ride. Has been known to indulge in exhaustive planning and complex diagrams that look like one of Pete Frame's Rock Family Trees.
Pantser /pænt zər/
- A writer who focuses primarily on character to drive a narrative, with the hope that the plot will just make itself up and look like they meant it to be that way all along. Has been known to plunge recklessly into a new book without even knowing when or where it's set. Flies by the seat of their pants, hence the name.
One of the great/scary things about writing is how much you discover about yourself along the way. I used to think that I was a plotter, I really did. My first drafts were plotted to the nth degree, full of complex interwoven story arcs and clever twists. But there was one twist that was withheld even from me.
I am rubbish at plotting.
Seriously, when I get a manuscript back from my agent, 90% of the comments are about plot. Very rarely does she criticise the voice or the dialogue or the characterisation - except when it impedes the direction of the plot.
It pains me how long I laboured under the assumption that I was great at plotting, but I simply didn't realise there was a problem. There's a really interesting series of articles by documentarian Errol Morris about what Donald Rumsfeld famously called "unknown unknowns" - the things we don't realise we don't know. And that absolutely sums up plotting for me.
In the agonising gap between Back from the Dead going out for submission and attracting the interest of a publisher, I started a new book. It was to be another funny horror novel, all about evil children's books and body swaps and some unorthodox demon worship. After the success of the second draft planning I had done for BFTD, I decided to plot everything scrupulously in advance. Cue four weeks labouring over a word document full of bullet points while rejections flowed in on an almost daily basis. It's fair to say that this didn't put me in the best frame of mind, so with the first act plotted in detail, I decided to make a start on the book proper.
And I didn't want to write it.
I had scoffed at all of those things that other writers had said to me about the dangers of plotting too carefully. That it drains the story of interest by removing the element of surprise. After all, hadn't I painstakingly plotted BFTD from the second draft onwards? And hadn't that worked?
The key word here is second. Perhaps after the first draft I can get myself into the mindset of a plotter. Perhaps I need to as well, because that is the point where I'm likely to get feedback from someone about how crap the plot is! But for the first draft?
I'm pantsing for England.