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  • Writer's picturePhil Parker

Are you a planner or 'pantser'?

OK. I admit it. I'm a "Pantser".

Rather than plan what happens in my stories, I let them evolve. Like the way dinosaurs turned into birds I suppose.

It's writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. I think that's why it's exciting. You never know where events are going to take you. Or how the characters in your story are going to react. As things evolve so the possibilities increase and diversify and that's where it can become truly scary; managing all those consequences. All that evolution. It's never been a conscious decision to write this way. I've tried planning, to map out the story in detail but the outcome is always the same; I sit and stare at the notepad or the computer screen waiting for something to happen.

I've realised the reason why I write this way is down to my training. My career has been spent teaching Drama. Before that I did my share of acting too. When I write, I inhabit the world in my stories, just as I become the characters. So, for instance, while some people find writing dialogue hard, I don't. It's because I'm in that person's head and it's what they'd say at that moment. There is a kind of writer's schizophrenia going on, with voices in your head telling you what to put down on paper.

It's why I cannot plan. I'm me at that moment. It's when I'm writing that the ideas occur, when I'm reacting to events I've created or to something another person has said or done. I will get an idea (even half of one) and include it in the story without being clear why. It's an instinctive thing. Sometimes I know that I will sew seeds early on in a story that I trust will grow and bloom at a later point. If they haven't - well, that's what a second draft is for!

I admit it is a time-consuming process. On social media you get people talking about how they've written several thousand words in one session. I'm lucky if it's a few hundred. The reason is down to spending so much time thinking - considering and reflecting on what's just happened and where it might lead.

What it means, in my opinion at least, is that stories are driven by character. I'm very conscious of character motivation all the time, as well as the need for clarity of relationship and background. When I taught Drama these three things were the mantra I repeated as a way to help students understand what makes any character. In an interview I did with Steven McKinnon about his SPFBO4 finalist novel, 'Symphony of the Wind' he talked about how the book began with his three main characters and how he arranged the world around them. I did the same with Knights' Protocol, the world building came as a result of considering how the main characters would react within it, so it showed off who and what they were.

This is what makes it exciting to write because you are regularly driven to the edge of a

cliff, like Thelma and Louise, without knowing what will happen next. Of course, as Steven also pointed out in his interview, another time constraint is that you can easily finish up in narrative cul-de-sacs. If you can't find how to move things on, you need to slam the car into reverse and go back to the point before the two female protagonists are forced towards the cliff by dozens of police cars! But that's part of the excitement. Yeah, OK, part of the frustration too.

I'm never going to be a planner. Couldn't even if I wanted. But writing is a highly individualistic creative process. You have to find the method that works best for you.

And me? I'm going to be flying - with or without pants!


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