Structure for the unstructured writer
The Grigori is already five years in the making—which feels like a long time, considering there’s nothing on the shelves yet. This is partially because, until this year, we’ve been inconsistently prioritizing the project.
It’s also because we’re a type of writer called a “gardener”, a “discovery writer”, or, less generously, a “pantser” (as in, one who flies by the seat of her pants).
While planners (also called “outliners or “architect writers”) carefully sculpt out their plot ahead of time and generally know what’s behind every twist and turn, gardeners are more apt to start with the big picture — or even just the beginning — and let the characters drive the action from there.
The pros of being a gardener writer: Your characters feel like real people, and the story can really surprise you.
The cons of being a gardener writer: Your plot sucks. (Okay, that’s a gross generalization, but it’s felt like the truth for us.)
For us, our pantsing ways became a huge hindrance. We would get excited, write for awhile, hit a wall (“omg what happens noooooow?”), and abandon the project. Then, after a few months, we’d realize we missed the world. So we’d start talking, get excited, and the entire process would start up again.
Rinse. Repeat. Recycle.
So what’s a gardener to do? We knew better than to try and become planners overnight. Discovery writers have a lot to offer, and trying to deviate would be a square-peg-in-a-round-hole situation.
So instead, we’ve improvised. We implemented a three-act structure for our book that lets us figure out the most important plot points without sacrificing the fluidity and creativity that comes from pantsing.
The first act sets up the conflict, characters, and atmosphere. The second act is the meat of the book that builds tension and takes us towards the climax. The third act is the climax and resolution. We’ve also added interludes to provide more character and world development.
This structure seems to be really working for us. We have milestones and direction, so we aren’t left floundering. But our characters have plenty of breathing room to surprise us.
If you’re a writer — are you a pantser or a planner? What strategies have you put in place to help make the most of your natural inclinations?