It is sometimes said there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into two kinds, and those who don’t.
OK that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but when it comes to writers most would agree that there really are two kinds: plotters, and pantsers.
Plotters like to know where they’re going. They might have an innate fear of taking a wrong turn – often referred to as “writing themselves into a corner” – but really this just translates into a worry about wasted writing time. Having to go back and undo something, change large chunks of text or, at worst, start over.
Plotters also like structure. In the same way their work has structure, so too – usually – does their writing process. Whether you use Snowflake, 3- or 4-act structures, Save The Cat, or go the whole hog (too many animal metaphors!) and walk John Truby’s 22 steps, there are many tools out there to help you plot. But before ever setting pen to paper (aka finger to keyboard) your average plotter needs to know the whole story. What happens, beginning to end, who it happens to, and how long it’s gonna take.
Pantsers (they “write by the seat of their pants”) are either bored by the notion of plotting, or do feel restricted by it (so you might say they come in two kinds *vbg*). They think the big picture, or they know how to start and are impatient to get going, so they just do. Take an arbitrary selection of characters, write about them, and see where their story takes them. They might think two or three scenes, or chapters, ahead, or they may just start writing whatever comes into their head. This is sometimes referred to as “discovery” writing, because you discover what the story is about as you’re writing it.
Which is perfectly fine, if that’s how you roll. For me, the immediate worry is that there would be another kind of discovery. Reaching the end of the story and “discovering” that there was a better way to write it. You had need of another character, or two. Or maybe there was a huge slump in the middle when not much happened, which you could have avoided if you’d thought about it in advance. Or while editing, you spot a plot hole. Something in the second half doesn’t work because of something in the first half. It might be a quick fix, or it might need weeks of rewriting, or – oh my God – it might derail the story entirely.
As you may have guessed, I’m a plotter. I’ll be honest, I don’t really enjoy the process of plotting. It’s hard work, ironing out all those wrinkles, laying out the beats, constructing the character arcs. But that has to be done anyway, in any good story, whether you do it up-front or on-the-fly. And although it feels like hard work at the time, I have to believe it’s not as hard as going back over the work and (re)doing it at the end. I like where a completed plot puts me – in control of the story. I don’t look on it as being “restricted”, in fact quite often I’ll find the characters taking themselves in unexpected directions (another common writing trope), but I am always safe in the knowledge that those new directions still travel towards a known point in the story and that the final “thing” will hang together in the way I intended.