Friday, 21 September 2012

Plotter or Pantster by Edge Guest Jeremy Craddock

Are you a plotter or a pantster?

Ah, the eternal question posed of authors down the ages. It’s something I always ask during interviews for my blog, Bookengine, which celebrates children’s writers.

Are you a blind-panic seat-of-the-pants scribbler, or a literary equivalent of a sat nav?

In a recent interview, Edge member Bryony Pearce told me she was most definitely a plotter, something she discovered writing her first, as yet unpublished, book.  The first ten chapters were plotted, the rest ‘pantsed’ (Bryony’s lovely descriptive verb) and the feedback was loud and clear: the first half was great, the second not so.  Now Bryony thoroughly plans her stories before she puts pen to paper, with wonderful results.

Each writer is different, of course, and one man’s road map is another man’s dead-end.

So, for your entertainment, here are some famous names, divided into the two camps.

Charles Dickens
Dickens mapped out his novels. But as they were serialised in magazines, he only looked as far ahead as the next edition. His notes were sketchy, often just questions to provoke ideas jotted down as they occurred to him.

Edgar Allen Poe
Edgar Allan Poe liked to plan backwards from the denouement.
In On the Philosophy of Composition, he said: “Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before anything be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention."

Thriller writer Jeffery Deaver takes plotting to an obsessive level. He spends eight months on his synopsis, working out every minute twist and turn so that his story ticks perfectly like a hand-crafted Swiss watch. Once this is done, the writing is a breeze (he revises his manuscript a further 30 times!).

Ken Follett also requires a fully-orchestrated outline before writing. He describes his working method in great detail at his website:


Ray Bradbury
The late Ray Bradbury wrote several essays in Zen in the Art of Writing about flying by the seat of the pants.  He put his trust in his intuition and rhapsodised about writing with ‘zest’ and ‘gusto’. For him, a plot was something discerned only after the act of writing, like footprints left in the sand by a runner.

Stephen King

Stephen King believes a story exists fully formed before it is written and it is the author’s job to excavate it like a fossil. It is inevitable bits will break off and the challenge is to remove as much in one piece.

Michael Morpurgo generally doesn’t know his story’s ending when he takes up his pen, preferring to let the story take him there.
His most famous book, War Horse, is one of the exceptions. He always knew the boy and the horse would be reunited at the end because there would be no story otherwise.

Meanwhile, horror author Dean Koontz may be unique in being neither a plotter nor a ‘pantster’.  He begins on page one and does not proceed to page two until he has fully revised the page to his satisfaction. Quite how he manages to control character development, plot and sub plot, is beyond me.

I ask the question again.
Are you a plotter or a ‘pantster’?

·   Jeremy Craddock blogs about children’s writers at

Jeremy Craddock who runs the wonderful Bookengine Blog (click here)


  1. Definitely a panster - and what a wonderful word. Although I probably plot more than I realise, but its sudden bursts in journals as the penny drops ( over and over again). I do think there are parts that always need more careful attention than others - but I write best with the wind in my hair and the voices of my characters telling me what is going to happen next.
    Great blog Jeremy!

  2. Thanks for for your comments, Miriam. I've always considered myself a pantster, possibly a legacy of my time as a newspaper reporter facing a deadline. However, more recently with my own fiction, where a story's architecture is important to me, I'm increasingly becoming a plotter. I guess nothing is ever set in stone!