This is a debate every writing group from forever has had, but I think we can all agree neither is right or wrong. Both are acceptable ways of crafting a story and it really depends on how the author works best. We decided to discuss it anyway.
Steve: Pants it, then plot it! Plotting requires a beginning a middle and an end, and they all turn up eventually. Ideas are what require thought. I’m not a clever man, so my higher mind rarely steers the ship in creative endeavours. A lot of books use my characters to explore and articulate the dark suspicions of my gut, the worrying questions of my dreams and the reflexive chauvinism of my drunken snarling. As such, sometimes I don’t know what I’m trying to say until I’ve said it. Then I have to edit it before people find out how terrible I am. Maybe replace it with a joke. That’s what people paid for, after all.
Renee: I do both. Some of my stories require research, and for those, I tend to make at least a rough outline of what’s going to happen. Sometimes I outline characters only, so I guess that’s not really plotting. I pants most of my short fiction, and some of my best work has resulted from that. However, I also have a handful of “novels” that aren’t finished because I wrote myself into a corner I can’t get out of, thanks to a lack of planning before I started.
Liam: Pantsing all the way. Why would I put limitations on my writing? Besides, I’d lose interest if I knew how it ended…
Katrina: Both? I plot the major events and then pants my way through connecting them. Knowing too much of the story ahead of time stunts the growth of the narrative for me. I have to let my subconscious do the heavy lifting.
Christian: I fully understand why some people prefer to have a plan when they start writing something. They are probably more organised than me in every other aspect of their lives, too. Me, I start off with a vague idea, or even just a single scene, and then let the story tell itself. I always found that when I plotted too much in the past, I would end up feeling restricted. Half-way through a story you might have a great idea for a plot twist, but you’ll be reluctant to go with it because you think it’s going to fuck up your grand plan.
It often shows if a book has been meticulously plotted. Things can become very stilted and emotionless.
Michael: I write the first chapter blind with little idea. That for me is the kindling wood. If it takes off and I want to know more, then I make a ‘misty’ plan, stopping every now and again to make more ‘misty’ plans. Bit like water divining. The thing is, I like to write books I want to read, and if I were to over-plan I would, in a sense, have read it and so lose interest in actually writing it. The exception is nonfiction – for example, ‘Cheyney Behave’ and my new book on Anthony Trollope. But here the fun lies in the research.
Peter: Pantsing, largely. This was certainly the case with my first book, (the sequel required a little planning but still pulled me in unexpected directions). Aside from these, I have two collections of short stories, none of which were planned out in any depth. One of my current projects has been planned out in detail, but I’ve drifted away from the plan quite far so I’m not convinced much plotting can save me from myself and where the story ends up.