Drawing Blood from Dead Trees

I want to talk a little bit about process, at least in terms of plotters vs. pantsers. If you’ve done a little writing, you’ll no doubt know what these terms mean. If not, well, a plotter is someone who meticulously plans their story, whereas a pantser might start with a character, setting or theme, and build a plot as they write.

There’s a popular theory out there that popular fiction writers are only ever plotters and that literary writers are only ever pantsers.

What a load of codswhallop!

In my experience of writing both popular fiction and more literary work, I’m here to tell you that writing of any stripe is about finding what works for you – and here’s the fun part. The balance of it may well change, depending on what you’re writing.

When I’m working in popular fiction, which for me is speculative in one form or another, a certain amount of planning is needed in order to build a world that is believable. Specificity of detail is paramount in describing differences between the real world and the one you’re creating. It is only logical to have some idea of how those differences operate, of how they might affect the way your characters would believably interact.

In my more literary work I generally begin with character and / or voice. That means that I often don’t really know what I’m writing about until I’ve completed a first draft, let it sit, and done some serious soul searching. Although those stories evolve more organically, plot is still an important ingredient in the mix and in subsequent drafting, themes are enhanced often through changes to the plot.

Basically, if the premise doesn’t stand up the story will fall over.

I would contend that any form of fiction needs some planning, whether it be certain discoveries that need to be made to move the story further (as in crime fiction), or some poignant detail, requiring meticulous research, that lends authenticity to a piece.

Whatever type of writing you are doing, there will always be times when background planning is needed before the actual writing takes place.

The silly part about it all is that plotting or pantsering is not what makes great writing.

Yep, you heard it right.

Great writing isn’t about whether you plan everything or wing it every time. It’s about whether or not your work connects with your reader. And the only way to do that is to evoke emotional truth.

To my mind as long as you stay true to who your characters are within the parameters of your story world, you’ve got the right balance, regardless of how you got there.

The secret is the ability to draw blood from the trunks of seemingly dead trees. You do that and you’ve got a guaranteed audience every time.

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