Episode 1: Plotters and Pantsers


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Season 3, Episode 1: Plotters and Pantsers Transcript

Hi, my friends.

Welcome to Amie Kaufman on Writing, a short podcast that answers one question each week about how writers do what they do.

If you’re a writer, or you’re a reader interested in how your favourite authors craft their stories, then you’re in the right place.

Welcome to season three! I’m so glad to be recording again, and we have some fantastic questions coming up this season, on everything from how outlining works to writing when you have no time, and a three-part series featuring my most frequently-asked questions about co-authoring. Make sure you’re subscribed, so you catch them all when they’re released.

Now, before we get started, I wanted to take a moment to catch up with you all. Did you catch the news I announced between seasons? The first piece of news is that I released two new books this January. The first was Rebellion of the Lost, co-authored with Ryan Graudin. It’s the sequel to The World Between Blinks, and perfect for readers aged 8 – 12, or adults who like to read with them. It’s about the world where everything lost from our world goes – two of my favourite things in Rebellion of the Lost were the giant mountain made entirely of missing ballpoint pens, and the communication system based on messages in bottles and lost, undelivered emails.

The second of my new titles is Beyond The End of the World, co-authored with Meagan Spooner. It’s the sequel to The Other Side of the Sky, a book about a prince who falls from a science-driven, high tech city in the sky into a land below ruled by prophecy and magic, who meets a living goddess, and learns he’s a part of one of her prophecies.

Both books wrap up the duologies they’re a part of, so you can start them without worrying about being left on a cliffhanger. I’m so proud of both of them, and I hope you’ll give them a try.

My next big piece of news is that I have a new book coming out in 2023 – it’s called The Isles of the Gods, and though you can’t preorder it yet, you can add it on Goodreads already. It’s a young adult fantasy novel featuring a prince, a grumpy sailor girl who didn’t ask to look after his spoiled behind, a disgruntled scholar who did not ask to go on a quest and will be complaining to someone at the first available opportunity, as well as magic, gangsters, and lots more. As I said, you can add it on Goodreads, so you’re notified when it comes out.

But my third and final piece of news is that my friend and producer Kate—who writes as Kate J. Armstrong—has her first novel coming out in 2023. It’s called Nightbirds, and together, Kate and I will be making a new podcast called Pub Dates. If you’re subscribed to this podcast, you’ll have heard a sampler already in your feed.

This podcast—Amie Kaufman on Writing—is about craft—it’s about tackling how books are written, one question at a time. If you’ve ever wondered how books are made, then Pub Dates is for you.

Together, Kate and I—and you—will count down to the publication of The Isles of the Gods and Nightbirds. We’ll talk all about what’s happening for us, taking you with us through our drafting and our edits, working with our publishers’ teams, and into moments like seeing our cover art, planning our launches, and lots more. You’ll learn about our worlds and meet our characters before the books are ever out—though of course there won’t be any spoilers—I know writers will find the process fascinating, but this one is very much for readers, as well.

You can find Pub Dates wherever you get your podcasts – we’re really excited for you to come on this journey with us!

For now, though, on with this show – which won’t be going anywhere. I knew I’d be doing a lot of talking at the start of this episode, so I’ve picked a question I can answer quickly. This is Season 3, Episode 1: All About Plotters and Pantsers

Here’s Kate with this week’s question. Hi Kate, how are you?

Hi Amie, I’m good!

This week’s question is from Willa, who says: I hear a lot about how some writers are plotters, and some writers are pantsers. Can you talk about what this means, and tell us which one works best?

So this is a great question, and it’s certainly a phrase we throw around a lot.

We often say that writers fall on a continuum from plotter at one end, all the way to pantser at the other. What does this mean?

Plotters, the theory goes, sit down and plan out every aspect of their story, every twist and turn, every reveal, before they begin to write.

Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They sit down and write ‘Once upon a time…’ and are as excited as you are to see where things go.

Plotters, it is said, find the meandering, disorganized style of pantsers frustrating and confusing. They risk hitting a dead end and not knowing what to do next, or having to throw away tens of thousands of works thanks to a wrong turn.

Pantsers, meanwhile, find the rigid structure and organization of plotters kills all the magic of this story. And they say that if plotters do find a better way for the story to progress, they’re locked into a structure they already spent too much time on to waste.

There are other names for these two groups—sometimes they’re called gardeners and architects, or just outliners vs free-writers or discovery writers.

The main thing to know is that the two approaches are totally separate, and both camps believe the other one is completely wrong about the best way to write stories.

Or… not. If that doesn’t sound right to you—if you’re pretty sure there aren’t two tribes of writers out there at war with each other—then you’re correct. Or at least, we’re probably fighting about love interests, not the correct way to write.

The truth is, very few people are all one thing, or all the other.

Sometimes you’ll hear those who do a little of each referred to as plantsers—as in, pantsers with a plan—or as join-the-dots writers. These writers might know half a dozen things that’ll happen in their story, and then they pants their way from one to the next. Imagine your story is a road trip—you know how it ends, and you can see that ending on the horizon, like a distant mountain range. In the meantime, you’ve listed out a few towns you’ll probably visit, lakes you might stop to swim in—but you don’t have all the details yet on what route you’ll take.

Most writers lie somewhere on the continuum between plotter and pantser, and a lot of us shift up and down it depending on the project we’re working on.

When I wrote These Broken Stars with my co-author Meg Spooner, we had no idea where that story was going—and those of you who have read it know there are some massive twists along the way. When we wrote The Other Side of the Sky, we knew how it would end, and we knew some of the most important notes we wanted to hit—the things that made us want to write the story. But we occasionally surprised ourselves, or each other, with the route we took.

Right now we’re working on a story we can’t tell you about yet, but because we know it’ll depend on us pulling off particular aspects of it like clockwork, we’re sitting down together to outline it.

Willa asked about what plotters and pantsers are, and which one works best. But truly, there’s no right answer, or wrong answer as to which you should try—and that’s okay.

Because writing books is hard, we’re all in the market for advice—so when someone tells us that they’ve cracked the code, and writing their latest book went smoothly, we want to know what they did, so we can replicate it. Problem is, if you’d asked Meg and I over the course of These Broken Stars, then The Other Side of the Sky, and now this the next project we’re working on, you’d get three different answers, and they’d all have been right at the time

A lot of writers have lost a lot of time trying to follow a process that doesn’t work for them—so no matter how sure someone is that plotting or pantsing or something in between is the right way to go, I want to encourage you to explore for yourself whether that’s right.

You’ll probably find that some stories lend themselves more to plotting—say, if they’re part of a genre that has stricter plot conventions, like a murder mystery, though even some crime writers don’t figure out whodunit until the detective does. You might find that other stories lend themselves more to discovery writing, or that when you jot down what you know about the story, you end up with the major landmarks in place.

In Season 2, Episode 9, which was on how to get your draft finished, I talked about the benefits of outlining more or less than usual, if you’re stuck. And I’d encourage you to keep an open mind all the time—not just when you need a hand.

You’ll probably find the answer is different story by story, and sometimes even over the course of the same story. And that’s fine – switching gears isn’t really the hard part. It’s remembering that you can that will slow you down, so make sure you keep this option handy in your toolbox.

If you’d like to try plotting, but you’re not sure how, try keeping an ear out for next week’s episode—it’s all about outlining, and will take you through some techniques.

For now, there you have it—you might be a plotter, you might be a pantser, or you might be something in between. And that might change! And that’s okay.

Here’s an exercise: Think about a book you’ve read recently – if you’d been writing it, how much would you want to have known in advance? Would you have enjoyed discovering the twists and turns in the same way you did as a reader, or would you have found it more satisfying to figure out exactly how they’d unfold in advance? Or a little of both? Perhaps there’s a hint in there as to your natural inclination – which means it’s good to keep the other options in mind as well.

That’s all for this week. Next week, I’ll be answering a question about how to try outlining, if you haven’t before, or you’d just like some new ways to go about it.

In the meantime, I’ll remind you to subscribe, and leave the podcast a review wherever you listen. Both these things help new listeners find the podcast, and I really appreciate it. I’ll also remind you to check out Pub Dates, where Kate and I will take you behind the scenes on the countdown to launching our next books.

You can find me at my website, which is at amiekaufman.com – you can subscribe to my newsletter there, for behind-the-scenes peeks at how I write, and any other news about new books, events or the podcast. You can also submit a question for the podcast on my website. You can find me on instagram at @AmieKaufmanAuthor or on twitter at @AmieKaufman. This podcast is produced by the lovely Kate Armstrong, author of the upcoming novel Nightbirds. You can find her online at katejarmstrong.com.

For now, thanks so much for listening – enjoy your reading, and enjoy your writing.


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