I am a planner.
Before I start writing a novel on page one I decide the specific details of the world my characters will live in, the rules of the magic system, how many books will be in the series (unless its a sole entry), the directions of the story arches, who are the characters, and finally the scene points in the novel. All that is in my notes. Then the first word is typed on page one. My writing flows better, comes easier this way. I don’t spend days in writer’s block because I’ve already taken a sledgehammer to the brick and mortar.
That doesn’t mean there is no room for discovery, for the unexpected scene, the plot twist never planned, or an additional character to take the stage from stage left. But writers can’t plan for every word spoken by the characters or every decision. Arches can develop over time in unexpected ways. I myself have beginnings and ends and various events I need to hit but there is a lot room between the gaps for unexpected surprises. There is a little bit of a pantser–someone who flies by their seat–in every writer.
For instance… the other day I was working on a new novel and I was in between two scenes. One scene signaled the end of an act and the other began to move the story to its next set of events. Inspiration hit then. Without revealing anything of this new project too early, I had a chance to expand on ideas my main character brought into the story that would come up later on. So, I started writing a more detailed scene, a conversation between two characters I never anticipated needing or wanting. That was not the cool part. During the writing of said scene I got to describe a character sanctuary, the place where she felt most at home, safe, a place where she could be herself. The basement of this machine shop, in world where everything has gone wrong, contains so much magic and its owner character that I was grinning to myself while my fingers clicked at the keyboard. Again, I never planned this scene or to describe this character’s sanctuary.
Another example of this type of spontaneity is the magic system in this new novel. When writing an action scene last week, where a group of characters have gotten stuck in a hairy situation with some savage baddies, I had to come up with some interesting ways for a particular character to use the magic system, albeit within the rules I’d already decided on (written down in my notes). I didn’t want to go beyond my set rules, less the Universe unravel before my god-like eyes. However, I wanted to demonstrate the consequences of using this magic, the costs, the effects, and the mechanics Eventually I figured out what I needed and wrote the action. The scene changed dramatically with the ways the character used her magical powers but making those specific decisions, which I never planned mind you, drove the story forward in ways I never intended and made the novel that much better.
My point is this: a writer is not simply a plotter or a pantser, albeit a given writer leans one way or the other most of the time. I’ll give a little on one point. It is difficult for a pantser to swing the other way in the middle of a writing because he or she started with no plan. However, a plotter, with his or her notes laid out from the start can deviate from the plan in the middle of writing and swing back around to pick up their plot points again. A pantser, even if they have numerous spur of the moment stories already written, can start a project after having plotted out their direction. It’s possible. Not likely but possible.
Sometimes being a writer is about flexibility and adaptability. Our limits as writers are only our imaginations and comforts.