A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Don’t Call Me a Pantser – Dan Smith

Plotter or Pantser?



OK. Look. There’s something I have to get off my chest. Who on earth decided that ‘pantser’ is a good way to describe someone who does not plot their novel? ‘Plotter’ I can understand. Plotters plot. So what do ‘Pantsers’ do? Do they pant? Do they pants? Which? And, as we all know, anything with the word ‘pants’ in it is funny. It’s just a funny word – I know this because my son reads the Beano and always laughs at the word ‘pants’.

So, now that’s out of the way, I’m going to put my hand up and join the ranks of people who do not plot their novels. Or maybe I do. You see, I usually have an idea for a beginning and end. I have a vague sense of few of the scenes that are going to come between, and I turn those things into a first draft. There will have been no planning and only a minimum amount of research. I prefer it that way, because then I can discover the story as I go along. The unexpected can happen. I can be surprised. But once I have that first draft, I then have a better handle on the characters, the story and what research I need to do, so I edit. Again and again.

Perhaps that first draft is just my version of plotting, then . . . so maybe I’m a plotter after all. Or maybe I lie somewhere in between (we’ll have to think of a name for that).

I can see there might be advantages in being an out-and-out plotter. I know writers whose plotting goes so far as to detail what will happen in each chapter. Before they begin, they know every scene, every twist and turn, and every character trait. There must be a sense of security knowing where you’re going, but it requires a big time commitment up-front and then you’re writing a story you’ve already seen/heard/experienced.

I like to get stuck in. I like to jump into the story and see where it takes me. If I plotted every tiny detail, I might be thinking, ‘I know this story already, why do I want to write it?’

Anyway, the most important thing is that different things work for different writers. If you like to plot, then plot. If you like to fly by the seat of your pants, then fly by the seat of your pants. And if you fall somewhere in between, then you can be a ‘plotser’ or a ‘panter’ or ‘panlotter’. Whatever takes your fancy.

Please, though, don’t call me a pantser.

Dan Smith 1Growing up, Dan Smith led three lives. In one he survived the day-to-day humdrum of boarding school, while in another he travelled the world, finding adventure in the padi-fields of South East Asia and the jungles of Brazil. But the third life he lived in a world of his own, making up stories . . . which is where some people say he still lives most of the time!
Now settled in Newcastle with his wife and two children, Dan writes his stories to share with both adults and children.
Dan’s debut novel, Dry Season, was shortlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award 2011, and was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. To date, Dan has published three novels with Orion Publishing, with a fourth, Red Winter, coming in July 2013.
2013 will also see Chicken House publish My Friend The Enemy, Dan’s first novel for children.


4 comments on “Don’t Call Me a Pantser – Dan Smith

  1. Abi Burlingham
    June 28, 2013

    Dan, I think you’re a plantser – you do a bit of plotting and planning before you fly by the seat of your undies! I would say I’m probably the same.

  2. dansmithsbooks
    June 28, 2013

    That still sounds a bit like ‘pants’ though . . .

  3. zdmarriott
    June 28, 2013

    Maybe we should come up with new ways to describe it. Maybe planners could be architects, and pansters (sorry, Dan!) could be… builders? Architects plan and make blueprints before they start work. Builders build the story as they go. OK, that’s rubbish, but something like that.

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