Engineers and Landscapers: What Lies Between Plotting and Pantsing

Disclaimer: the following writing advice is based on the author’s personal experience of writing fiction and does not represent any hard or fast rules. Your mileage may vary.

Alright, we’ve discussed the concept of plotters vs. pantsers enough by now. Haven’t we? I just know you, as a writer, have bumped into this question already. Probably you’ve read the descriptions of each to find which writing style you adhere to most. I bet you’re sure which camp you belong to, aren’t you?

Yet…maybe you’re not so sure. Maybe you find a little of column A and a little of column B appealing? I know I do. There’s just something about having some preparation to guide my way, while still leaving room for inspiration and surprise as I go.

I’m not the only one who’s felt more kinship with a planning process between plotting and pantsing. In “Plotter, Pantser, Architect, Gardener,” EV Emmons posits a third type: landscapers. Her description seems to indicate landscapers land closer to the pantser side of things.

So in addition to landscapers, I wish to suggest one more in-between planning style. One similar to but opposite landscapers, closer to the plotter side of this binary.

Engineers.

Plotters, Pantsers, Architects, Gardeners

You should absolutely read through EV Emmons’s post to gain a full understanding of her pitch for landscapers as a writer planning type. But if you don’t, we’ll get to that in a minute anyway. First, let’s just go over the plotter/pantsers, architect/gardener thing.

I spent a…brief but formative moment thinking that architects and gardeners had already been proposed as the positions on the spectrum of planning between plotters and pantsers. Which is to say, I thought we already had the topic of this piece figured out.

But no. According to Emmons, the architect and gardener part comes from George R.R. Martin’s method for expressing the nature of plotters and pantsers.

Architect = plotter

Gardener = pantser

They are the saaaaaaame. Moving on.

Landscapers

According to Emmons, landscapers can be described as follows:

Landscapers are gardeners who prefer a bit of structure to their work. While they may not have detailed plans, they’ll have a skeleton frame of what they want to see happen in the story. They also know the ending or a loose form of the ending. They’ll know who their characters are and keep a sheet handy with all their traits — much like a role-playing game character profile.

A landscaper’s approach is looser and allows for more freedom to work with inspiration as it comes, but it’s also structured enough to have a general idea of where you want to end up.

EV Emmons, Plotter, Pantser, Architect, Gardener

In essence, landscapers plan a little bit, but keep that plan only on the backburner where they can refer to it for guidance when they get stuck.

Engineers

Engineers are architects who trend toward flexibility in their process. They may have the merest seed of a story, but they have internalized the building blocks of story structure so that they know what elements to slot into each gap as they go. Engineers sort through tropes and beats and archetypes, turning them this way and that, until they’ve shaped a piece that will fit the part of the story in front of them.

While an engineer’s approach allows for wider possibility through the lack of an overarching outline (or merely a vague guiding idea), each (potentially crippling) choice gets filtered down to simply solving for the next piece and the next. You need not worry about building walls when you’re still laying foundation.

Thus, engineers don’t have to know the ending before they get there, because each decision they make will close the various doors of possibility until only a few options remain that make the most sense. However, they know the shape of what buildings tend to look like and can build theirs as they work out each element along the way.

Which Planning Type Are You?

I tend to think of myself as more of a landscaper myself. But I must credit my partner with having proposed the engineer idea. He took my description of how I tend to fill in missing pieces as I write because I know what story pieces are necessary and suggested such planners could be best described as engineers.

Our discussion today results in a planning spectrum between plotting and pantsing.

Architect <> engineer <> landscaper <> gardener.

Ultimately, you’ll find what planning style works for you through trial and error, but I encourage you to try writing by way of all of these at least once. You never know how much planning, or lack thereof, will click best.

Got any questions about story planning types? Let me know in the comments below. If you have any stories about YOUR experiences with plotting or pantsing, I want to hear them (craft discussions are, after all, the whole reason I write this advice column).

If you enjoyed this post and know someone who might like this writing advice, send them over here to check it out! And remember to sign up for my newsletter and/or leave me a tip below.

Thanks for reading!

Summer’s latest:

With Words We Weave 2022: Hope

Featuring an exclusive Hopeful Wanderer short-story!

For over 100 years, Texas High Plains Writers has been a part of great storytelling in Texas and beyond.

This year, our anthology offers a collection of short-stories, memoirs, inspirational essays, and poetry filled with hope.

With 22 talented authors, from best-sellers to the first time in print, there is something for everyone. 

Great heroes of legends past sit side by side in these pages with the unsung citizens showing kindness to strangers. Humor, adventure, and nostalgia combine to remind us all that hope can be found anywhere. 

Buy it now: Amazon

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