In this weeks blog Crime Cymru’s Thorne Moore answers one of the regular questions authors have to field. Needless to say we all have a different spin on the answer – sounds confusing? – read on……
Pants and Plots
It’s a question that authors always get asked. Are you a pantser or a plotter? For the first few times I was asked, I could only gape like a fish out of water because I had no idea what it meant. It’s one of those terms, like WIP, that were a mystery to me when I first got to know other writers. Why were they all obsessed with having whips? Was a pantser anything like a planter? Or even better, a panther?
I’ve got it figured now. Plotter or pantser. Is your book planned like a military operation, every chapter defined, every character filed with full biography, every detail plotted in advance before you put a word to paper (or screen)? Or do you rush at it, writing by the seat of your pants, hoping that your vague intentions will pull themselves together into a perfect gem?
I can’t plan a book in advance. I don’t even know what the action is going to involve. All I know, when I start out, is what it’s going to be about, its theme. I know the conclusion it needs to reach. Then I give it a setting, suited to my theme. I create a few key characters, in rather two-dimensional form, ask them their names and purpose and I let them loose to head for the ending I’ve planned.
Maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but I really do just plunge in and see what happens. My characters become real as they start to act and speak. They acquire backstories, because I want to know why they are as they are, but how they are dictates how the story spins out.
I write crime, so a crime must surely be the triggering event that set everything going? In my case, not necessarily. I might sometimes not even be sure when I start, what the crime actually is. I am usually guilty of unpremeditated murder because I don’t really write detective novels; I just like the odd murder to be a focus for reactions from my characters.
Sometimes, the end result gives the impression that the whole thing was carefully planned from the start. My first published novel, A Time For Silence, features two stories running side by side, one set in the present day, the other set sixty years earlier. I wrote them independently then meshed them together, surprising myself how neatly parallel they could be. I’d like to say it was down to my skilful plotting, but it was more a matter of luck.
Whether it’s by luck or my superb skill, my characters reach the end I’d always planned and behold! my book is finished.
Except, of course, that at that stage, it is really barely started. It’s called a first draft. Mine are just a mass of useful material, character studies, conversations, infilling, prolonged diary entries, etc, much of which will be weeded out in later revisions, or reordered and often entirely rewritten. My first draft is really just a plan being formulated. My first revision is The Plan, set down in written form. The second revision is when the final book begins to take shape.
So when I’m asked if I am a pantser or a planner, my answer is Yes. And I’d quite like a panther too.
Thorne Moore writes psychological and historical crime fiction, several set in Pembrokeshire. She was a finalist for the People’s Book Prize with her novel A Time For Silence. She also writes Science Fiction.