There is more than one way to write. It isn’t necessarily which technique you chose to do, it’s the one you do on impulse. Every writer is different but usually these are simplified into two categories. These two types have been given multiple names over the years, the more widely used of which is ‘plotters’ and ‘pantsers’. Those who plot out every details of the story and those who, as I like to call it, just ‘wing it’. Zadie Smith calls her two types of writers the ‘micro planner’ and the ‘macro manager’.
“Macro Planners have their houses largely built from day one, and so their obsession is internal — they’re forever moving the furniture. They’ll put a chair in the bedroom, the lounge, the kitchen and then back in the bedroom again. Micro Managers build a house floor by floor, discretely and in its entirety. Each floor needs to be sturdy and fully decorated with all the furniture in place before the next is built on top of it. There’s wallpaper in the hall even if the stairs lead nowhere at all.”
But my personal favourite description of the two types of writers comes from Game of Thrones writer George R. R. Martin, the architect and the gardener.
“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”
I am wholeheartedly a gardener. I have a garden full of seeds (ideas), some of which I have nurtured into the small roses, others have grown so much they’re out of control, thorns crossing over the path and barring my way to the end. I started giving up on their care and they lost themselves in the wild. Yet one or two I continued to nurture, they’re the pristine bushes at the back, shaped into a unicorn.
In his interview, GRRM went on to say that he believed no one was completely are gardener or completely an architect, it’s that you’re more one than another. Even gardeners use stakes to hold up flowers and bushes, plants like ivy and honeysuckle are giving frames to climb up and sometimes when you’re building a house you have to adapt to account for the fact you can’t build something where you initially want it.
“There are two kinds of writers, I think. There are those who know what they are going to write from the beginning to the end. And there are those who just sit down, put the pen in their hand and, like water-skiing, let the boat pull them.” – Jonathan Carroll.
It’s important to remember that neither is better than the other. There are both benefits and flaws that come with each.
A plotter can build an in depth story, it is rigid and concrete. Plot holes and problems might not arise as often, because you already know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Unfortunately that can limit surprises, you have to shift your plan to account for the changes in a story. There’s also the risk of forever plotting, and never putting the pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
A pantser on the other hand, starts with never ending freedom. There is a surprise around every corner as you discover what your protagonist does next. The problem is that a lot of plot holes can arise in your first draft and if you hit a brick wall somewhere in your story, you don’t know where to take it next. It can then be difficult to get out of the plot hole, and you may end up having to scrap large chunks of writing.
Nevertheless, whether you’re a gardener or an architect, a macro planner or a micro manager, a plotter or a pantser, it doesn’t matter because ‘all writing is re-writing’. No matter how much you plan your novel nor how much you ‘wing it’, no one will ever have a perfect draft with their first manuscript. We have to adapt to the situation and there’s probably a little bit of every writing style inside all of us.
P.S We would like to confirm the commencement of Heroes Fortnight starting on Monday 7th September. 🙂