Architect vs. Gardner: Which are You?


George R.R. Martin, of Game of Thrones fame, gave an interview in 2011 to the Sydney Morning Herald where he talked about the two kinds of authors. Those who outlined and created blueprints before they wrote were architects and those who kind of just started writing, not really sure where they were going, were gardeners. In reality, I think we're all a bit of both, but tend to drift farther into one category or another.

I had never really heard the terms "Architect" or "Gardner" used before in the context of writing. I kind of always just assumed there were two kinds of people who wrote novels: 1. Those who just started writing, like Stephen King; 2. Those who outline every last detail of the novel before they start writing. I had no idea there were actual names for these two types of authorial predilections. All I knew is that I was in the Stephen King camp and all those idiots who outlined were taking away all the fun and creativity from their writing. That was until I seriously got into screenwriting.

After you write a script or two in the Stephen King, or Gardner, fashion you quickly realize that is not the way to go for that particular format. Screenplays tend to be much more structured than novels and the readers of them come to rely on those structures from new writers (once you're Quinton Tarantino, you can write whatever, and however, you want). And as I researched more and hired a screenwriting career coach, it became evident that I would need to know how to outline. This sent me spiraling into a mild depression. How could I outline something? How could I work everything out beforehand before the characters and the story told me what the story was and where it was supposed to go?

So I endeavored to find out other people's outlining methods and was happy to discover that there were all different kinds and methods people used. As in everything, I would try some things and then try other things and then eventually find what worked best for me. The biggest revelation I discovered about outlining was that it didn't stifle my creativity it all. All it did was force it to the forefront earlier than anticipated. The other positive aspect I discovered after outlining was that the day-to-day stress of having to come up with what was going to happen went away, and with it, my old enemy: procrastination.

The other fear I had did not come to pass either. I was afraid that all my creative juices would be used up by outlining the entire story and wouldn't have anything left when it came time to actually write it. I was happily surprised to find that hasn't been the case. Having the chapter outlined beforehand and knowing where the next one was going actually created a bit more freedom in the actual writing. And I don't have to be a slave to the outline. I insert chapters as I go, move around others and go off in different directions previously unthought. So even when outlining I still have the characters and the story direct the entire thing.[I think something non-writers don't understand is when writers talk about how their characters surprised them when they did "x." And the non-writers look at you like, "What do you mean the characters surprised you? Aren't you in charge of writing the story?" Well, actually, no, the characters are in charge, and to a lesser extent, the story itself. It's one of the wonders of writing.]

I digress. Anyway, I think that as time goes on, I will probably embrace larger, broader outlines and not rely so much on them for the little stuff. Sort of like George says in that article, I'll know where I'm going but not necessarily how I'm going to get there. As it is, it's still a process in flux for me, and will likely continue to be so forever, as I imagine each novel will come with it's own set of process requirements. At least I have an expanded toolset to draw from now when it comes down to figuring out how to get where the story needs to go.