Friday, 26 December 2014

Planned Spontaneity

EDGE Author Sara Grant Asks: Are you a planner or a pantser?

I love New Year’s Eve. I know it’s technically just another date on the calendar, but for me, Big Ben's twelve bongs signal a fresh start. The slate is wiped clean for the new year and anything is possible.

This week my husband and I will sit down and write our goals for 2015. We set personal and professional goals – everything from developing new book projects to volunteering to improving relationships with family and friends. While preparing for this annual ritual, I realized that I live my life like I write my books: I start with a plan.

When I worked in corporate PR, I was known as the queen of the matrix (not the cool movie kind but the boring ol' chart kind). If there was a plan to be written and a timeline to be organized – I was your gal. I don’t get out of bed without a to-do list and if you’ve served on a committee with me, odds are I was the one to type up the meeting notes and organize a to-do list. I’m sure there’s a psychological diagnosis for my obsession with planning – but as yet no cure. 
"I’m a plotter who is often surprised
by the unplanned twists my story
takes me once I start writing."
 – Paula Rawsthorne
Albert Zuckerman in Writing the Blockbuster Novel believes that plotting and planning a story isn't crazy at all: “No sane person would think of setting out to construct a skyscraper or even a one-family home without a detailed set of plans. A big  novel must have the literary equivalent of beams and joists strong enough to sustain it excitingly from beginning to end, and it also must contain myriad interlocking parts fully as complex as those in any building type.”

"I am a loose plotter (tighter if it’s a thriller),
but without fail my characters (who are pantsers)
ALWAYS surprise me and take over,
creating unexpected  plot twists and turns!" 
– Katie Dale
I asked my fellow EDGE authors if they were plotters or pantsers. In other words, do they carefully plot their novels or do they ‘fly by the seat of their pants’. I’ve scattered their responses throughout this post. We all combine planning and spontaneity. Some seek order from chaos while others plan first but allow space for surprises. 

"I start with a huge mess of seat of the pants ideas and
'discovery writing’ then attempt to make sense
of it all with some structure/plot for subsequent drafts.
These often derail into more pantster anarchy too,
but it's the only way I can discover the story I'm trying to tell!"
 – Dave Cousins
One year my friend and I were lamenting our lack of spontaneity. She said, ‘Why don’t we plan to be more spontaneous next year?” We, of course, laughed at the irony of the statement. But I’ve come to realize that planned spontaneity is the perfect way to describe my writing process. I research and plan but then let the characters surprise me. A give and take of whimsy and calculation is what works for me.

"I have an outline of the story in mind,
but nothing more plot-wise, and
I generally find that things change as soon as I start writing.
Having said that, I am determined to be much more of a plotter
for the next book, and actually have a chapter plan
in place before I start writing!"
 – Keren David
Sometimes I write a detailed storyline, noting what happens in every chapter. Other stories spring from a bulleted list of milestones. I typically write the opening chapters as I’m developing the storyline to play with voice. But my creation process isn’t strictly logical. Each writing project must engage my head and heart. I have to be able to solve the puzzle of my plot and subplots – how they twist and tangle together, but I also have to figure out the heart of my story: Why is this story so important to me? Why am I the only one who can write it? 

In The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, Akiva Goldsman, award-winning film writer and producer, explains what I call heart this way: “The trick is to be connected to the material of your imagination, thematically and concretely, write what interests you because if you’re NOT fascinated and excited by the writing of the script, the reader won’t be fascinated and excited by the reading of it. Try to find something in the idea that speaks to your own life, something you think is authentic, true, compelling in your story.”
"I do a cast list with character studies and back stories - but only a para each - decide on the landscape; consider the crises and the climax and then I’m ready to rock and roll. I am a discovery writer who likes to plan a bit before I actually start. But most of my writing is done in my head, thinking and day dreaming, followed by great spurts of writing." – Miriam Halahmy
When I have my plot outlined and a sample chapter written, I must feel compelled to write the story. It should occupy nearly every waking moment and keep me up at night. The story must demand to be written. 

"I’m a panster! I usually start with a character, then comes the idea for a story.
I write an opening - sometimes a paragraph, sometimes a page,
and occasionally a chapter - then I let the story develop
on the page as I'm writing. There are times when I wish I was a plotter though
because it would make the writing process a whole lot easier for me!
I’m about to start a new book, and I'm going to be attempting the plotter route..."
 – Savita Kalhan

I’ve never written a book that goes exactly as planned, and I’ve never lived a year without unexpected surprises. I write goals and make plans and then roll with what each minute, hour and day brings. 
"I am a percolator first. I don’t take notes of my ideas,
I sit and wait for them to form into a full story in my head.
When get that click as a series of ideas form one cohesive whole,
I’ll write a synopsis (one or two pages), then I flesh out the synopsis
 into a chapter by chapter outline. . . I am rarely surprised by my characters
- I have a zero tolerance policy for misbehaviour - but occasionally,
in the course of writing, I will do some research that inspires me to add a scene,
or take things in a slightly different direction. However,
I know my ending before I start my opening."
 – Bryony Pearce

So plot or pants...
How do you write?

How do you live? 


Sara Grant has written two edgy teen novels -- Dark Parties and Half Lives -- and a funny series for young readers -- Magic Trix. For more information on Sara and her books, visit or follow her on Twitter @AuthorSaraGrant

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