Constructing Monster School: Plotters versus Pantsers

Today it’s my great pleasure to welcome DC Green, who’s written a fascinating guest post  on plotting a novel. DC’s latest book, Monster School, Book 1 of his City of Monsters series, is just out. I’ve read it and it’s a wild, wise-cracking ride, a feast of the gloriously grotesque. And a great story, too. Over to you, DC.

DC_Green_18There are two types of writers: ‘plotters’, who carefully plan their stories before they begin the writing process, and ‘pantsers’, so named because they prefer to write by the proverbial seat of their derriere garb.

Before I typed even a single word of my latest children’s novel, Monster School, I scrawled over 200 pages of background information. I suspect that lands me in the plotting camp.

Pantsers would argue planning is boring; that the best part about unbridled writing is unquestionably the fun. Pantsers have no idea where their story will take them; their writing becomes a joyful journey of discovery. Wheee!

I agree pantsing is fun, and it is a terrific approach when writing a poem or even a short story. Pantsing a coherent and powerful story in little time, such as a 40-minute class, is an impressive feat. And pantsing can be a wonderful starter tool to tap into one’s subconscious and generate the raw matter of story ideas.

The downside about plot-free stream-of-consciousness writing is that it can only ever apply to first drafts. The second through 32nd drafts is where the ‘real’ writing and polishing takes place. Sadly, pantsers rarely progress so far, as they first need to throw out 90 per cent of their first draft. Why? Upon ‘completing’ that draft, they usually find they have a bunch of random chapters that do not connect. Unplanned characters tend to react unpredictably as their author has not polished their traits, personalities or, most crucially, their voices.

Pantsers often write fantastic scenes that simply don’t fit with the rest of the story. Even worse is when pantsers write themselves into a proverbial corner walled with writer’s blocks. A big enough corner can be a momentum and story killer.

Stories such as murder mysteries need to be structured in meticulous detail so clues and red herrings may be sprinkled through the narrative. The author needs to know all the characters’ secrets and motivations and work backwards from the final resolution. This is impossible when pantsing.

stage 2&3 DC Green visit (8)I had little choice but to plan Monster School. Crammed onto an overcrowded island, the City of Monster’s four million population contains every monster type from every culture in the history of the world. For this bizarre city to make sense and function, from the highest mountain to the deepest sewer, I knew I had to work out the answers to many, many questions. Which monsters are abundant, and which endangered? Which ones are rich or poor, and why? Who are the politicians and who collects the garbage? Is there magic in this world, and if so, what are the rules? Why do zombies hate vampires? What are the religious beliefs of giant spiders? Why do mummies possess super-strength? So I began my detailed monster census and a story that would have crumbled if I was a pantser – for none of my monster interactions would be consistent.

Having to scrap 90 per cent of one’s work is discouraging, to say the least. Many pantsers, including those with great talent, often abandon their story unfinished, or worse, quit writing altogether.

Some pantsers, of course, refuse to scrap anything. They rewrite until their pantsed story glistens with wonderful descriptions, shiny prose and perfect grammar. I call these stories ‘perfectly polished poos.’ They may be well-written, but they also contain extended dull or random sections, character and structural inconsistencies and other flaws that will invariably turn off readers, teachers and publishers.

Far better to test out numerous different beginnings, endings and character traits before typing the first sentence. That way, authors can make the best choices – and avoid massive rewriting. By carefully planning, I was able to retain the vast majority of my Monster School first draft. That represented a lot less rewriting than keeping only ten per cent.

Readers can tell when writers don’t have a plan. The more an author fleshes out their story-line and becomes acquainted with their characters’ personalities before they commence their story, the better their chance of success. Authors who plan well can maintain high conflict and interest levels in every scene.

However, planning doesn’t mean authors have to stick completely to their script. Once an author plunges into their story, they will invariably discover story options that are superior to their original plan. An author’s goal is to produce the best possible story, so they need to be flexible and open-minded. Sometimes my characters come up with their own ideas, or point out the flaws in my plan, or simply say, ‘DC, you may have planned for that to happen, but I simply wouldn’t do things that way.’

When that happens, when spontaneous pantsing meets detailed planning and the left and right brain hemispheres work together, I know I’m on the right writing track.

Thanks, DC.

DC Green is an acclaimed children’s author and award-winning surf journalist. Featuring amazing artwork by Danny Willis, his latest novel, Monster School, has won two pre-publication awards and received multiple five-star reviews on Goodreads.

DC & Monster links

DC’s blog, with all the latest Monster Blog Tour updates:

Ford Street Publishing (for Monster School orders): (for a kindle Monsters):

DC at Goodreads:

DC’s facebook page:

6 thoughts on “Constructing Monster School: Plotters versus Pantsers”

    1. Working on it as we speak, DC. The long-awaited sequel to The View from the Mirror. It’s a mighty challenge to do a sequel that’s better than the original but I’m really enjoying it.

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