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Pantsers versus Planners


Opinion

Successful authors discuss approaching a new novel. Is it better to plan or fly by the seat of your…

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Four authors modestly walk on stage and relax into the sofas provided. Chris Brookmyre sits with Doug Johnstone, Kati Heikkapelto with Kate London. A decision built on gender? No. We find out each has their own intriguing relationship with the planning of a novel. Kate is a wannabe planner. Kati eschews the idea, confessing she didn’t even plan to become a writer. Doug is saying he is not a meticulous planner but, of the four, he certainly has the most rigorous approach to character creation. Chris doesn’t quite straddle the arm of his sofa but is admitting he has become more of a planner as his career has developed.

This Saturday morning session at Granite Noir is an absolute treat for any writers in the audience, but also for anyone facing the enormity of a task which needs to be broken down into achievable chunks. Even though their approaches may differ, the unifying strand is their unquestionable discipline and how, as writers, they are working, processing the data gathered by their own antennae, all of the time, a notion families and friends are not always sympathetic to. Kate London’s habit of, ‘listen, listen, listen, listen’ will serve any writer well. The panel are taking time to explore questions of where ideas emerge from, the importance of research, passion versus obsession, and what exactly is a creative spark?

A thoroughly informative discussion is followed by some equally interesting questions about workspaces, working patterns and whether planning gets you faster results, all of which, it seems, are dictated by family circumstances as much as by formal design.

Some book festivals are guilty of placing authors on pedestals and creating a gulf between the talent and their audience. Not here. This frank and honest discussion is warm, funny and ultimately inspiring. Whether you are a planner or a pantser the key is always to get the job started.