It’s often said that there are two types people, for many different situations. There are glass half-full and glass half-empty people. There are extroverts and introverts. There are artists and academics. None of these are entirely accurate. (In truth, there are people who believe there are two types of people and people who don’t.) Like everything else in life, the reality is more complicated – pretty much everyone sits somewhere on a long, grey scale and they move up and down that scale depending on the situation. But we like to categorise things.
Writers are often classed as one or other of two types: planners or pantsers. A planner is someone who works out everything in their story, knows all the details and then writes. A pantser is a writer who has ideas and a rough plot, then they start writing and create a story by the seat of their pants.
In a recent interview with Joe Abercrombie, George R R Martin, author of the epic fantasy A Song Of Ice And Fire, described this concept in the best terms I’ve ever heard. The video interview is here. What George said about there being two types of writers is this:
“There are two types of writers – the gardeners and the architects. The architect plans the entire house before he drives a nail; he draws up blueprints, he knows how deep the basement is going to be dug and how many rooms there are going to be, where the plumbing is going to be. And then there are the gardeners who dig a hole, plant a seed and water it with their blood, and then they see what comes up, and they kind of shape it. I’m much more of a gardener. I know where I’m going, I know the eventual end of the book, but I don’t know necessarily every twist and turn of the road that’s going to get me there.” – George R R Martin
I love Martin’s description, especially about the gardener watering his seeds with blood. And, if I’m honest, I’m also much more of a gardener than an architect. But I do draw up some plans as well. I have an overall idea for a book, I have basic characters in mind, a few key events. I write a rough timeline. But I know that once I start to write the story, it will start to tell itself. I know the characters will do things I don’t expect. As a writer it’s important to let the story and characters evolve organically, and, if they do things against the original plans you made, change the plans, not the story. At least, that’s how I do it.
I think a lot of writers do things like I do. A number of my friends who I’ve discussed this with use a similar method to me. Martin’s broadly right in his explanation, and it is a valid truism, but to extend Martin’s metaphor, writers like myself are gardeners, with architectural leanings. I roughly plan out the garden, more or less know where all the beds and trees are going. Then I start to plant seeds, let them grow and tend them. That process is one of the things I love most about writing. Seeing where a story takes me, being surprised by the things my characters do and say, never gets old. It’s why I keep writing. I know the stories are coming from somewhere inside me, I know the overall idea I’m trying to convey. But the process of gardening is pure joy.
I don’t mean to dismiss the architect writers by saying this. I’m sure they get equal joy from their method. But I bet there’s a bit of gardening in there too. We all do things differently, some more alike than others and we all have varying degrees of one thing or another in our methodolgy. I love Martin’s description above and, when the subject comes up again as it inevitably will, I’ll use that example myself. Writers to tend to err heavily towards one or other method. And by talking about architects and gardeners, I won’t have to explain what a pantser is any more.
There are two types of people out there – those who will agree with this post and those who won’t. But many will probably agree with some parts and not others. There are a million shades of grey out there, and that’s what makes the world such an interesting place.