Friday, 29 May 2009

Anal plotters and lazy pantsers in romance writing

I've discovered that in the rarefied world of romance writing there are two types of writers -plotters and pantsers.

Plotters are the anal retentives, those writers who plan every detail of their book before they start writing. They create elaborate character charts, assemble collages (pretty pictures of imagined characters and their homes, families, houses, cars, holiday destinations, etc), and organise their plots chapter by meticulous chapter.

The pantsers are a disorganised lot who fly by the seat of their pants. Maybe they do a little bit of planning to establish their characters and give them personality traits, but generally the plot is a vague concept that takes shape as they write.

Sometimes I wish I didn't, but I fall into the latter category. I mean, who's got the time or energy for all that fiddly stuff (though I can imagine JK Rowling working in a huge ancient library on about five massive whiteboards, surrounded by stacks of reference books based on myths and legends).

Instead, I set out on a 'journey' (yuck, cliche but so appropriate) with my characters and keep them guessing about what's going to happen next. I know they hate it, and a lot of the time they're hanging around in my head telling me to just get on with it!

"Get out of the freakin' pool!" "Get your head out of the fridge!" "Write me some proper dialogue, not that pap!" "You can't expect me to do THAT to him?"

I can only take comfort from the fact that one of my favourite characters in the Channel 4 series set in Glasgow, Scotland, The Book Group, appears to be a pantser.

Scottish Kenny, who is in a wheelchair, is writing a novel. The following dialogue comes from a conversation he has with another book group member, Fist (she's Swedish). Kenny is attempting to describe his book's plotline to Fist.

Kenny (has a gorgeous Scottish brogue): This man's living in a cabin way up in the hills. He's trying to remember a story his father told him a long time ago.

Fist (gorgeous Swedish accent): Where is his father?

Kenny: Dead, years ago. Lung cancer. But before he died, he told his son about a place in the hills that no one knows about - a secret place.

Fist: What's in the secret place?

Kenny: I haven't gone that far yet. I'm working on developing my characters.

Fist: Wow.


Sandie Hudson said...

Shayne, I love being a plantser. You know it's like you don't know new friends until you spend time with them, so why are our characters any different? Plus I love the element of surprise, I never know what they are going to throw at me.
I tried the plotter thing and my characters went on strike. Didn't talk to me until I ripped every scene & wall chart up. LOL.
Be proud girl.


Shayne Collier said...

Sandie, you lift me up where I belong!