Gods and Tyrants – The Novelist’s Creative Process

Fiction authors get asked whether they’re planers or ‘pantsers’. This means does the author, before setting fingers to keyboard, plot out their entire story, and the characters arcs, and settings, and the themes/conflicts – and then stick to this plan until the work is finished? Or do they just start writing with only a vague idea of their destination and let the story develop organically (i.e. write ‘by the seat of their pants’)?

The question is reductive. In fact, trying to distil the creative process for something as complex as a novel – or short-form fiction – into a dichotomy misses the nuance and intricacy of the creative process. Incredible ideas that completely upend the original story elements may arrive before, during, and after the first draft. So, many (most?) authors don’t fall on either extreme of the planner/pantser continuum; instead, they do a fair bit of planning and research ahead of the first draft and then start writing while being open to new ideas as they write.

For myself, I’m both a plotter and a pantser – and rarely trouble myself with the distinction between the two. By that I mean that I start out with a plot outline and character arcs and whatever themes/ideas I want to explore in the story. I also do a lot of research on setting before launching into the novel. However, I don’t lock myself into a strict outline that can’t change.

For example, in my latest novel, THE LORDS OF THE SUMMER SEASON, a modern fantasy set during the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967, I added an entirely new subplot about the main character’s experiences on the academic scene during this period because a lot of the drama that summer happened on campuses (Amazon link: https://amzn.to/3xhythv ). I hadn’t even dreamed of this as I planned the original novel.

If you’re writing well, the characters may start doing their own thing and the original, linear plot may twist itself into a pretzel shape. That’s fine – if the story benefits from improvising. The author needn’t adopt every spontaneous notion that pops into their mind, but they can at least be open to modifying their original story.

The author is the god of their little world, but that doesn’t mean they have to be a tyrant!

Tyrants aren’t flexible enough to change their original plans. 

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(image from Pixabay)

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