Not a planner – a pantser.

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Do you know how you will plan your novel? On March 8th, I was invited onto Jane Bwye’s blog where I disclosed that I am not a planner, I am a pantser.

It seems there are two kinds of writers: those who plan, and those who write on the seat of their pants. I would love to write the synopsis, theme, backgrounds of each character, main events of each chapter, before I ever begin but that just won’t work for me. I don’t even know what kind of characters will pop up, which will prove to be major and even where the setting of dramatic scenes will be.

Despite the discipline of degrees and diplomas and a Ph.D. I’m not just a dyed-in-the-wool, but an irrevocably skin-stained, bone-irradiated, ingrained irredemiable pantser.

A small germ, such as a stray phrase or incident, visits me. I follow it; it turns into a chapter or a theme. When I start writing, a novel, more often than a short story, begins. When I get to the end of one chapter, I know what has to happen in the next but not further. As I struggle to find exactly the right word something often emerges that enriches or expands the plot, becomes a sub-plot or develops one of the characters.

That’s when the novel outline falls into place. I usually know the ending before I get halfway. Then it’s a matter of laying out the remaining ground, including character backgrounds, toward reaching that end.

All my fiction has one thing in common (as well as their manner of creation) — they are character-led. I can’t write any other way.

No great plan. But something gradually emerging. Emerging picture

Here’s an example of my writing process. A Relative Invasion is a trilogy set in the Home Front of WWII.  It all began with one tiny thread. An elderly man chatting to me mentioned that he had been the last child to be ‘chosen’ by the villagers where his school had been evacuated. The children had been walked around the village in a crocodile. This man had been a tall seven-year-old, (‘He’ll cost a bit to feed and clothe’) and was only taken in reluctantly.

I thought, children must have been so resilient at that time. And so Billy was born, a sturdy well-meaning boy. But he was only aged five in 1937, and so I found myself writing historical fiction (with all the research that entails). The key figure at that time was, of course, Hitler, and his rise to power came as result of German resentment , humiliation and envy after the end of WWI.

Somehow, a cousin for Billy surfaced, one who would experience these negative emotions and turn them into psychological bullying to make Billy’s life a misery. However, this Kenneth would have undoubted talents and would need to be charismatic for the adults to be blind to the bullying. I made him artistic and physically frail.???????????????????????????????????????

Now I had a theme for my novel whereby the feelings and tensions in Europe (macro scale) would be mirrored in micro by this family, and particularly the two cousins in their developing rivalry.

Billy needed a secret symbol of power to support him.  I hit upon a Cossack sabre, that then needed a background story of its own. This led me into Russian/ Germanic conflict at the start of WWI. And the sabre icon would need to filter through to a conclusion.

I am not recommending this approach to writing, just saying that novels can emerge bit by bit as the narrative continues, and in this case, it was a trilogy that emerged.

Are you are writer? Consider which kind you are.

8 Replies to “Not a planner – a pantser.”

  1. I’m BOTH – I have the plan (as in date – time – beginning and end …. whether it be a chapter or the complete book) THEN I’m grabbed by the seat of my pants and go with the flow. does that make me a PLANTSER?

  2. My stories are always inspired by a tiny moment observed – a snippet of conversation overheard, a little bit of action seen from afar – and unfurl naturally as that observation sits in my subconscious for a while, fermenting. I don’t plan my short stories in great detail, but have a plan in my head before I start writing, and know what the shape and ending will be. Currently working on my first novel (well, two, actually!) and can’t imagine being able to keep those under control without a broad outline. But we shall see as time goes by…

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