Thursday, July 11, 2019

What Type of Story Gardener Are You?

How often have you answered the question, “Are you a pantser or a plotter?” with “I’m a bit of both” or “I’m somewhere in the middle”, or something along that line?

In this video, at around the 50:30 mark, you can listen to Carrie Vaughn and Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones) author George RR Martin discussing their approaches to writing and referring to “architects” and “gardeners”, which is an analogy Martin has used before instead of “plotter” and “pantser”. Presuming Martin is referring to landscape architecture (as opposed to building architecture, which would make less sense used as a metaphor alongside gardening) this analogy gives us a spectrum of different writing approaches, rather than the more dualistic argument of pantsing versus plotting.

The Landscape Architect


Like a professional landscape architect who has to produce an extremely detailed blueprint of their proposed design, sometimes down to the actual species and number of plants that are to be planted in each section, the author on this end of the spectrum first plans out their book in great detail. This might particularly apply to a non-fiction author who has to get approval from a publisher, or a traditionally-published fiction author sending in a proposal for several books in a series. Authors of fantasy, science fiction, and historical novels might also be in this group due to the world-building and research aspects of these genres. If you enjoy developing character profiles/biographies, in-world encyclopedias, and what I like to call fictionaries (fictional dictionaries) pertaining to the world of your book(s) then you might fit somewhere in this section.

The Landscape Gardener



A little more hands-on from the beginning, this author creates a relatively quick sketch before digging in to the work itself. This author probably has a lot of experience and now knows where they can take shortcuts. Like a landscape gardener who takes soils samples in order to work with or alter the pH of the soil or the drainage conditions, authors in this column continually analyse their market and know their genre extremely well.

The Sculpture Gardener



Like the artists in charge of beautiful public and private manor gardens which require a great deal of vision and a lot of time pruning and shaping and attention to symmetry and elegance, these authors spend a lot of time on rewriting and editing to create a true work of art.

The Botanical Gardener

These authors pay strict attention to themes and/or accuracy. They might collect notes on, or write about, a bit of everything, but they are well organised and logical in their output.

The Farmer



Working hard to produce a large volume of nourishing work that brings in an income, writers in this field might be producing articles, text books, early reader books, quick chapter book series, or even what was called “pulp” fiction in the past. To be this prolific requires a solid system, professional tools, and commitment to regular high-quality writing that needs as little editing as possible. Farmers cannot operate without the back-up of their families or paid staff since this kind of workload leaves little time for distractions such as holidays, leisure time, or even housework.

The Vegetable Gardener



Perhaps less prolific than the farmer, these are authors who are working to produce books as quickly as possible, but they also have pesky loads of laundry to deal with. Concentrating on getting the words right as much as possible in the first draft can help to cut down on time-consuming rewrites, getting those books out to harvest on a regular cycle.

The Constant Gardener

This is the writer who must write, who cannot breathe without writing. Daily “morning pages” are like fresh air. Getting words on the page is the only goal. But with all this time immersed in the work, this author notices everything that needs attention and the necessary pruning and shaping happens organically. Just as new projects arise out of this gardener’s awareness of how their garden is used and enjoyed by others, so the author using this approach understands what their readers want and need and tries to bring joy and usefulness into being by the way they shape their works.

The Weekend Gardener

Like the average person with a day job who escapes into their garden on the weekend, these authors have other commitments that leave them only a very specific window of time in which to write. These authors would benefit from keeping detailed notes and a solid planning system so that they can easily pick up where they left off and get writing. It also pays to aim for clean copy in the early drafts to avoid spending precious hours on rewriting and editing.

The Cottage Gardener



The cottage gardener doesn’t do much planning, instead choosing plants mostly on a whim or through long experience and trial and error. They may be set in their ways, or willing to plant anything once. They might take cuttings from plants in a friend’s garden. Likewise, the cottage author is attracted to a variety of different genres, doesn’t plan much beyond the initial idea and perhaps the ending, may abandon a work-in-progress in favour of a new idea, and usually prefers to let the characters and story develop organically through the writing process. Some might enjoy writing fan fiction, or building upon classical stories and motifs, or collaborating with a co-author or illustrator.

The Wildflower Gardener



This author does no planning whatsoever. They arrive on the garden of their page and scatter the seeds that come in the moment. The plants of their words are allowed to grow where they will and the author does little more than the equivalent of watering, nourishing, and any obvious weeding (always bearing in mind that what looks like a weed today might be the prize of the garden in a few weeks). The wildflower author is content to soak up the beauty of placing words on the page and enjoy the surprise of what those words become. Many poets find themselves in this column.


Over to you. Have I left any gardeners out? Where do you fit in such a spectrum? Has this given you (ahem) food for thought? Are you using the most beneficial writing approach for the body of work you’re trying to produce and the time and resources you have to work with? Do you need to consider a different approach?

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or HearWriteNow.com

14 comments :

  1. Primarily employing the mindsets of both sculpture and wildflower gardeners, I typically invite the others to stop by for a visit from time to time. Does this tag me as the possessor of multiple writing personalities? Hmm. Seriously, Elle, this is a great post. I love the analogies.

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    1. Different projects might call for different approaches, too - just like a professional landscape gardener also spends time in their own backyard, or someone who grows vegetables in the back likes to sow wildflower seeds in the front garden. Or you decide to prune some shape into the rose bushes you've had for ages and end up with a vision and passion for a series of beautifully clipped rose topiaries.

      :-)

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  2. Wildflower all the way. I used to be more of a Constant Gardener, but not anymore. With my Work in Progress, I wish I were more of a planner because it's been a mess from start to finish. Great post, Elle. One Gardener you missed. That's the one you pay to do your work, which has happened recently more than once. I pay a gardener but not a plagiarist.

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    1. Ha, yes. Just like people who garden or landscape for a living (like my neighbour) there are many different types of writer-for-hire, from journalists to ghostwriters. I wouldn't call a plagiarist a writer, though - that's more like someone who takes photographs of other people's gardens and passes them off as their own. When you arrive at their actual house, you see they have no garden at all.

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  3. Ha! Those are some fun analogies. I love the many choices too.

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  4. My garden, my office, and my writing are all in untidy messes at the moment. I'm a cross between the Wildflower Gardener and the Cottage Gardener and seem to be happy here most of the time. Love the post, Elle.

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    1. It's good to find your happy medium.

      Thanks, Pat :-)

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  5. azizasphinx@gmail.comJuly 12, 2019 at 9:44 AM

    I am a combination of wildflower and cottage. While I think I am most connected with the idea of the wildflower, my characters sometimes force me into the cottage place.

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    1. It sounds like you've found the approach that works best for you (and your characters). :-)

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  6. Great way to look at it. I'm probably more architectural designer.

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    1. I knew you would be, what with your Story Building Blocks approach to planning. Fantasy does need at least some organisation somewhere along the line for authors to keep track of the worlds they've built.

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  7. Great post, Elle. I love all the gardening analogies. I think I'm a cross between the wildflower and vegetable gardener, especially as I start out my new book. I have bits and pieces of scenes in a huge file, but I'm also trying to push them into neat, tidy rows.

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    1. All the best, Maryann. Hopefully those scenes can be successfully replanted as needed.

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