Architect vs Gardener Plotting for Writers

Do you write more with your head or your heart? That’s the dividing point between Architect writers and Gardener writers. These terms are similar to plotters and pantsers, but with the added benefit of figurative language.

We can picture a writer building a story, brick by brick, always consulting the blue prints. 

In contrast, we have the writer tending to their story like a gardener, pruning here and watering there. 

The two methods are endpoints to a continuum of writing styles — one more centered on working everything out in advance and the other in letting everything grow how it wants. 

Become a Garden-Architect

Few writers fit into the extremes. Even Tolkien, who methodically planned his world down to the moon phases, said he expected the characters to find the true story. 

A gardener in real life won’t scatter seeds willy nilly and expect a gorgeous garden to sprout up. There’s a bit of planning that goes into it. 

Likewise a writer can do more than start with a blank page and just start writing. You can figure out what are some of the major scenes in the story. The ones you keep thinking about. Then you can let the characters decide how to get from one scene to the other. 

Your Mind is the Soil

For years I tried to grow fruit in our SoCal back yard only to have it wither under the blistering sun or be devoured by bugs. It took a while to learn what thrived and what perished in my yard. 

Writers need to do the same. What types of stories excite you? Are you adept with action or dialogue? Whatever “grows” best in your mind, shows you the areas you can leave unplanned. They can develop naturally. 

Anything else needs a bit of architecture. You might need the dreaded outline for certain elements of your story. Maybe you need to plot out the beats of an action scene or plan the tearful argument between two lovers. 

It’s your soil. Only you can figure out what grows fine on its own and what needs constant attention. 

Don’t Neglect the Weeding

While you let some parts of your garden flourish, things might get out of hand. A subplot might become so overgrown it strangles the surrounding story. 

Or you might have weeds that sprout up. Unwanted descriptions or info dumps that detract from your overall garden-story. 

Consistent criticism from professionals you can trust will help point out these weeds. Then a healthy bit of revision can trim overgrowth and dig up the weeds. 

There are so many metaphors for how writers create. Ultimately you need to find a system that works for you. 

Neil Gaiman once said that writing is like driving down a dark foggy road with one headlight out. The road would be the architecture, keeping you on track. But which road to take? That’s up to you and your characters. 

Tim Kane

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