To Plot or not to Plot?

To Plot or not to Plot?

Are you a Plotter or a Pantster?

Do you go into a story with a clear idea of beginning, middle and end and know everything in between? Or do you just know how to start and then see where the story and characters take you?

When he sits down to write a Jack Reacher book, Lee Child says he doesn’t have much of a clue where the story will go, he doesn’t outline. He just starts with a first line and sees where everything takes him. The Reacher books are proof that a book doesn’t have to be plotted beforehand to work.

But maybe that’s down to the writer.

The way I wrote once–I used to have a vague idea of where a story was going, but most of the time I’d just sit down and write and see what happened. I’m not sure if it worked. I finished stories that way, sure, but whether or not they worked was unclear. One thing I’ve noticed since I started plotting is that the stories aren’t as long now, and they feel… tighter, more solid somehow. Where before they were slightly disjointed.

Some writers, like JK Rowling, have a clear idea of where a book is going. Rowling details what will happen in each chapter of each book. Probably wise given how big and complex the world and cast she created is. Some writers don’t like to be controlled by a pre-planned plot.

I’m one of them. Half of one, at least. I like to know where the story is going for at least a couple or more chapters ahead. It depends on the story. Most books I have a clear idea of where things will finally end up, it’s just getting there that isn’t so clear. But as I write, I’m also thinking about what will happen next. Events that I’m writing in the moment inspire other events and other characters and plot twists.

I find writing down a structure for the plot limiting. It doesn’t seem as natural as just… writing.

The cool part about writing is that you’re sometimes clueless as to where the story is going beforehand, and finding out is part of the fun. Plotting can take the surprise away.

But an outline can also be a good thing. Some writers like the focus, because it keeps them on track, stops them getting distracted. And that’s true, knowing where I’m going makes sure I write consistently, every day. If I was too clueless I’d probably spend more time thinking about plot/characters more than I would writing. And I’d likely have writer’s block more often.


Being a plotter works for some, just like being a pantster works for others. But which are you, and why do you think you prefer being one or the other, or a mixture of both?


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About Sam Whitehouse

Sam spends most of his time in a different world to other people. If it isn’t one he’s created himself, it’s one he’s reading about. In the rare moments when this isn’t the case, Sam can either be found addicted to a sci-fi or crime show, re-watching Marvel movies, finishing up an assignment for his final year of studying Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University, or trying to get the dozens of ideas for stories in his head under some kind of control. Sam has lived in the same small village in Yorkshire, surrounded by countryside on all sides ever since he could remember. His childhood saw him get into plenty of scrapes climbing trees and crossing rivers and generally believing he was Indiana Jones. Sam gives credit to his Grandad for him wanting to be a writer, and his bedtime stories for keeping Sam’s imagination stoked. But credit must also go to Steven Spielberg, J K Rowling and Stephen King, who have provided plenty of inspiration over the years, too. Sam writes what he reads, and that is pretty much anything—save romance. Fantasy, thrillers, or crime: once an idea takes root, he can’t stop until the world, characters, and plot are on paper. A huge Marvel fan, Sam one day hopes to pen a screenplay for one of their movies, or direct one, or do anything at all related to one. Until then, he’ll stick to his own fantasy worlds and wait for Marvel’s phone call.

Posted on 04/29/2015, in books, reading, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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