Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Writing Process Spectrum by Michelle Styles

When discussing writing, people often divide writers into plotters v pantsters. I will confess to never having liked the terminology. For one thing, it implies that writers who primarily use intuition are not as good or competent at achieving a cohesive storyline as those who outline obsessively. This is blatantly not the case. There are  a myriad ways of writing a novel and most writers are somewhere on the spectrum of the two. The terminology is also clunky as it is hard to visualise a pantster and people can look at you strangely until you explain. Equally a plotter can make a writer sound Machiavellian or vaguely sinister.
This weekend, I watched a talk given by GRR Martin (the author of Game of Thrones). While he writes in the fantasy/Science fiction genre, much of what he had to say holds true for all writing.
For example, he gave a quote from William Faulkner about the human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing that matters in writing a good story. This is probably more true of the romance/woman’s fiction genre than the fantasy genre. The human heart in conflict is the core of all romance. It is why romance is a character driven genre and why it is the most popular genre. It is the characters.
What first drew me to his talk however, was his description of writers  as on the architects or gardener spectrum. An architect makes a plan first and knows precisely where all the wiring, the load bearing walls, the pipes for the plumbing will go before the spade full of earth is dug. There is little to no deviation from the plan. A gardener on the other hand may know  what type of seed  he has planted but he doesn’t  actually know what precisely that plant will look like and how strongly  it will grow or the precise shape of its flowers. Good gardeners do have a broad design in mind when they plant but it is a far broader design than the detailed one that architects use.  Martin pointed out that with writers, that seed is watered with blood. And boy, do I know that feeling!
I believe the concept of an architect-gardener spectrum more fully encompasses how writers write. It is also ore easily understood than pnasterv plotter. Personally I would love to be an architect in many ways but there again the times I have attempted to fully plan a novel in advance are the times when I have had the biggest revisions or found myself the most bored. For me, I have to want to tell the story and if I have planned it down to the last detail, and simply have to churn out write the words, where is the enjoyment? I like discovering motivations and little twists. I like being able to improve on the original idea. I may not know everything about my characters before I put the first word down but I certainly know them thoroughly by the end. I do like use my intuition and instinct, rather than being slavishly devoted to a plan.  And yet, I know there are other writers who draw great comfort from their plans and details.
There is no right way to write a book or tell a story and everyone needs to respect their own individual process. I have learnt the hard way that I am far more of a gardener than an architect and I need to stop fighting it.
You can see the full interview here. It is rather long and he does cover the pitfalls and pleasures of being an author. The bit about the writing process is about halfway in.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide range of time periods. She is currently hard at work on her next Viking set romance for Harlequin Historical and is embracing her inner gardener. Her last one Summer of the Viking was published in June 2015. You find out more about Michelle and her books on

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