Discover Your Story Plotting Style

 

by Ryan Lanz

 

Has anyone ever told you that you have an architect or gardener style of plotting?

There are all sorts of names for styles of plotting. Another set is pantser/plotter, although those terms never seemed to feel right for me. Both styles have various pros and cons, neither being right or wrong. Each method also has certain strengths and weaknesses, which we’ll go over later in this post.

So which are you? Let’s dive in.

 

Gardeners

I once heard a quote from a hardcore Gardener who said, “What’s the point of writing a book if I already know how it ends?” After I scooped up my hanging jaw, I mentally wrote that comment down. That’s an extreme example, but this type usually will start with the seed of a plot, perhaps an idea or a hook, and grow the story from there. Often, a Gardener will try not to put restrictions on the plot but prefer to see where their writing leads them. Sometimes, a Gardener will intentionally not know where the plot is going on purpose.

Pros:

  • The plot could feel more natural
  • The characters can feel less plastic-like and more well-rounded
  • The story can take some spontaneous directions that it might not have otherwise
  • Results aside, it can be more fun

 

Architects

An architect plans out the story ahead of time. Hardcore Architects will plot out each scene in each chapter before even writing the first page. Architects aren’t necessarily (but often are) the structured types, as it can be an entirely learned skill.

Pros:

  • You rarely are lost on what to write next
  • You’ll always have an ending to work towards
  • For some, it streamlines the writing and makes it flow faster, due to the pre-thought
  • It could help reduce writer’s block
  • The character’s problem solving abilities is often more believable when it’s thought out ahead of time
  • It could reduce redundancies
  • It’s often easier to stay “on track”

That’s a broad stroke of the brush, but it could give you some insight on your own strengths and weaknesses.

I’ve often read assessments of the differences if you are one or the other, but what about if you are a degree of both (which is most often the case)? Let’s look at some new categories garnished with amusing titles.

 

The Lamppost Tarzan (50% Gardener/50% Architect)

Actually, this is the type I am. So if you’re taking any of this advice to the bank, so to speak, this would be the one. I write as a hybrid of both. I think up the ending before I begin; this is crucial to me. Personally, I have to know where to aim while I’m writing and have everything point toward that result. I also plot points along the way.

Imagine a long street lined with lampposts. It’s dark, and you can only see directly underneath the lampposts. So, you walk from each lamppost to the next, using them as your trail of breadcrumbs until you arrive at your destination. That’s how I plot. I have roughly 30-50 lampposts placed along an entire novel’s progression, things like conflicts, events, confrontations, developments, discoveries, betrayals, etc. The final lamppost, of course, being the ending.

The space in-between each lamppost is completely free-written. In fact, recently I created three new lampposts just being a Gardener in-between the original ones.

I find this to be a great way to keep the free spirit in my writing, while still having a moderate amount of structure to keep me on track.

 

The Soul Searcher (90% Gardener/10% Architect)

This type of plotter pretty much only comes up with a beginning and ending, and everything in between is fair game for discovery. This writer has at least the ending goal in mind, and grows the story toward its direction. Tangents are something to keep an eye out for, but at least your story will feel quite “alive.”

 

The People Whisperer (20% Gardener/80% Architect)

This type of writer only is a Gardener when it comes to writing characters. This writer will detail out the plotline to its every detail yet leaves out the planning of the character arcs (development). Now, this doesn’t mean you don’t have any idea where the character will end up, per se, but you’ll give the character the room to grow into it. You could find the character will add a flavor you never imagined would come about. This is another option for some free play inside a preset structure.

 

Conclusion

I hope you found these examples helpful. The idea is to not label yourself to death, but to get an idea of what works and doesn’t work. The key is, if a method works for you, then do it. An “inferior” method is far superior to a method never used.

 

 

 

Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr

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26 thoughts on “Discover Your Story Plotting Style”

  1. I couldn’t relate to any of these particularly well… I’m a “squishy architect” I guess. I do tons of prework, plot all the steps but without much detail, know the character arcs, and then set everyone loose and they make changes – thus the squishiness as I let the story carve its course. Hope that makes sense.

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  2. Gardener who would like to become a People Whisperer! I love the idea of splitting the Gardener/Architect types into subgroups; most people I talk to feel like they fit into different camps for different aspects of their book.

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  3. I am a People Whisperer. I write stories the same way I used to plan mathematics lessons. Everything is structured in advance because once you involve humans, nothing is guaranteed to go as planned.

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  4. I love your take on the panster versus plotter styles. I would say that I’m more of a People Whisperer: I enjoy setting up most of my plot points, but really let my characters grow and change only as the story itself moves forward. I find it to be my most authentic style of writing.

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  5. I’m a Lampost Tarzan lol. I’ve never heard of these terms before. I’ve always felt like a pantser because when I Idea strike I just get on and write but I also sketch out a brief outline so I know the main plot points from start to end – each plot point is just a sentence to prompt me.

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  6. Evocative set of identities.
    By reading this I am definitely a Gardener, which can be useful when writing Fantasy.
    I work like this:
    ‘There’s the world folks (ie characters). Crazy stuff is going to happen, How you get through it, I’ll leave you to sort that out,’
    About a third of the way through a current book and I have not the faintest idea how it is going to end….and loving every minute of it.
    Mind you I would not recommend this as ‘The True and Only Way’; You need to do massive re-writes and self-editing to sort out the continuity and the final rationality….still fun though

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