G.R.R Martin once classified writers as gardeners or architects. Architects plan where every beam of character will go, how every wall of plot goes in a building, before they lay the first brick of writing. Gardeners, on the other hand, plant seeds and nurture them to grow.
When it comes to the great plotting verses pantsing debate, I mostly sit on the plotting side of the fence. I will often have ten thousand words of chapter planning before I write the first word on a manuscript. I know that things will change slightly, but I know my beginning and end. I like to think that I’m on a road trip. I know where I’m going and how I’ll start, but I’m perfectly willing to take detours if I get stuck in a traffic jam.
I am also writing this knowing that what works best for me is simply that: what works for me. Where I plan, others make fantastic books by writing and seeing where it takes them. Hell, sometimes I do that too. My first book in the TEETH series was just that, me writing and seeing where it went… for the first ten chapters. After that, lost on a road somewhere, I realised that I might need a map if I wanted to get the rest of the way.
When I started Meat, the second book in the TEETH series, I plotted the first 15 chapters of the book and then began writing. I was starting with a new set of characters, and while I knew the ending, I needed to figure out how the traffic was flowing before I cemented my journey in SatNav.
I’ve now written 21 chapters of this book, and the last 6 have been by me plotting as I went, always getting myself to the next rest stop before pausing to figure out the next leg. I realised that, while I’d come a significant distance, I was lost, and in order to make the rest of the journey, I’d need to back track a little.
What this meant in writing terms was that I needed to start at the beginning. By writing more than half of the book, I now knew that one of the new POVs I’d been writing was redundant for the second half of the novel. I also realised that my final destination was actually further than I’d originally planned. So, I restarted my plot. I took out the redundant POV via the chapter plan, and re-planned those chapters to be written into scenes by the POVs I would be keeping. This meant that, due to my POV hopping, I was losing 5 chapters. As TEETH: The First Bite was 25 chapters, I wanted to keep MEAT: The Second Serving at roughly the same.
Here is the funny thing. Even though I thought I was completely lost, by re-plotting my route, I realised that in fact, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I’d been around a few too many roundabouts, taken a few too many stops at motorway service stations, but it had actually led me to where I needed to be. I just hadn’t realised it.
In the last two hours, I’ve written out the chapter plan for the last 8 chapters of the book and everything fits perfectly into place. Beams I’d put in place are now centrepieces for a room, and seeds I’d sowed without thinking are growing into fruitful trees.
So, G.R.R Martin, I agree with you that Architects and Gardeners play a big part in writing. However, I don’t think you have to be one or the other. I think you can be both, whether at the same time or in different drafts of the same project. You can build your main plot and let the vines of subplots grow around it. You can be an Architect for one project and a Gardener for the next.
So, I think I’m going to take my experience of designing book-buildings, and I’m going to make a greenhouse to grow all those wonderful seeds.