Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Catherine E. McLean: The 9 Kinds of Writers

I love lists and I love classifying things.  Catherine has graciously delighted me on both accounts with her Guest Post discussing the...


by Catherine E. McLean
Copyrighted material @2012 - 
Taken from Mrs. McLean's "Writing & You" workshop and used with permission.

Catherine E. McLean
Are you a pantser or a plotter? Or maybe your method of writing a story doesn't fit either style? Well, I've discovered over the course of more than fifteen years of reading, conferences, workshops, and meeting other writers (from the novice to the multi-published and award-winning) that there are nine basic types of writers:
  1. Pantser
  2. Plotter or Outliner
  3. Foundation Writer
  4. Reverse Engineering (also called Backwards Plotting)
  5. Piecemeal Plotting
  6. Constructionists
  7. Transcriber
  8. Dictation
  9. Multitasker

There may be more types, but let's look at these nine:

1) Pantser--one who writes by the "seat of their pants" which means the writer sits and types a story that unfolds, not knowing where the story will go but excited by the prospect of discovering the story.

The most common drawbacks are:
  • the narration goes off on tangents, 
  • the story stalls out, 
  • another character takes over the story, or 
  • cliches and triteness abound. If the entire story is drafted, the revision process is extremely onerous and draining. A pantser usually ends up with lots of ideas but few completed stories.

2) Plotter or Outliner--This writer is one who does pre-writing and planning before drafting, which nets a completed story and a better first draft. The plotter doesn't use the traditional Roman-numerals type of outlining. Their methods of outlining utilize various processes and diagramming, i.e., using "plotter's tools" such as:
  • The Hero's Journey format
  • The Three-Act Play format
  • Arcs/Character Arc (curves and arcs, arcs on arcs, zigzags on arcs, etc.)
  • Box diagrams (story boarding, calendars, use of sticky notes, index cards, Rolodexing, etc.)
  • Clustering or radial graphs, (also known as mind mapping, netlining, bubbling, snowflake, leaf/vein/frost, etc.)
  • Straight Line (horizontal, vertical, diagonal)--with or without arcs or zigzags--the W plot, etc.
  • Triangle (Freitag's Triangle) and Pyramids
  • Curves and circles, funnels/spirals
  • Other geometric diagrams of the plot (or a combination of diagrams)
  • A personal "project bible" or "cheat sheets"
  • Journaling
The drawbacks to any type of plotting or outlining are:
  • the writer becomes bogged down in providing minute details before actually writing the story, 
  • too much effort and time goes into filling out countless forms, and 
  • doing too much delineation of character and plot. Thus the writer loses enthusiasm for the story, and the story is never actually written.

3) Foundation Writer--the writer gets a story "dump," which is usually a scene (or the opening of the book) or a character comes onstage. Everything about the story can be extrapolated and plotted from the information contained or implied by the information dump. Often this writer employs various "plotter's tools" (mentioned above).

The drawbacks for foundation writing are:
  • the same as those of the plotter/outliner, and 
  • if not able to decipher an aspect of the story, the story is set aside (to be completed some other day--or perhaps never).

4) Reverse Engineering--This is Backwards Plotting. The story begins with the ending-climax and works back to the beginning.  This is often a method used for mysteries and crime novels, thrillers, etc.

The drawbacks are:
  • it may not be possible to figure out "the beginning," and 
  • the plot is trite.  Reverse engineering also benefits from "plotter's tools."

5) Piecemeal Plotting--As story information comes to the writer, it's in no particular order, but the various scenes are written. At some point (when enough scenes are developed), the scenes are sorted and a plot-order emerges.  Gaps are filled with additional scenes, and the story is fleshed out from beginning to end.

The drawback to this type of writing is the inability to tie all the pieces together. (This style of writing could benefit from "plotting tools" like a radial graph or clustering.)

6) Constructionists--This writer is one who does not visualize a story as they write but step by step constructs the story.  The writer relies heavily on logic rather than imagination.

The drawbacks are:
  • the writer overwrites, and 
  • using too much description or detail. The story may also become too linear, dull, and tedious because researched information or detailed explanations stop the story's forward flow.

7) Transcriber--a writer who writes their stories in longhand then enters them into their computer, editing as they go. This also works for the writer who dictates into a recorder and then transcribes the material into their computer.

The drawbacks are the same as those of the pantser.

8) Dictation--using a computer voice recognition program to dictate a story directly into the computer word processing file.

The drawbacks are the same as a transcriber's and pantser's plus rewriting to eliminate speech repetitions (like "ah" and "and") as well as run-on sentences.

9) Multitasker--This writer starts one story until they run out of steam and sets that story aside to begin another story. When they run out of steam on that current work-in-progress, they return to the first. That's because while this writer worked on the second story, they figured out what to do about the first.  The multitasker then writes more of the first's story before switching to the next story.  There may be three or four stories going at once.

The major drawbacks are:
  • the writer never figures out a story and, therefore, never finishes the story's first draft, and 
  • it can take a very long time to finish one story.

So, are any one of the nine types better than another?  Not really. Each writer must determine what's normal for them--which is done by trial-and-error. It's also not unusual for a writer to start as one type and end up as another.  And, by the way, it's not unusual for a story to need to be written a certain way, a way that isn't the writer's "usual" method. In other words, whatever works, works.


Catherine's paranormal-fantasy-romance novel, KARMA AND MAYHEM, will be published late this summer by Soul Mate Publishing.  Writing as C. E. McLean, she has sold short stories in science fiction, paranormal, and contemporary to hard-copy and online anthologies and magazines. She is also a writing instructor and workshop speaker (both online and in person)--her schedule is posted at her home web page. She sincerely believes a writer needs to be self-educated so she studies and reads extensively about the business and craft of writing--and addresses various elements of fiction writing at her The Sampler blog. She invites readers and writers to join her at Facebook, Twitter, or Linked-In.

Many thanks to Catherine for permitting me to host her fine article!

I think I'm a pantser with a dab of piecemeal.  Which are you?


  1. Dang, I think I might be all of them depending on what I'm working on. Maybe I need counseling...

  2. Hi Catherine,

    I think I'm mostly piecemeal with a bit of a plotter. Though like you said, not every book or short story is written the same way. I suppose once I get the character and their goals, I rough in a general ending and dark moment then take it from there. And that's a really nice book cover, BTW.

  3. Hi, that was a very interesting post! I think I'm a combination of three of those.

  4. Adam, Kathy, and Claire--

    I think it's great that you were able to identify your style of creating a story from the list. Understanding the muse can be quite a challenge.

    And thank you, Kathy, for liking the book cover of KARMA AND MAYHEM.

    I wish you all the best as you pursue your writing goals.


  5. I think you've actually only got 6 types of writers on the list. Transcribing and Dictating refer to the mechanics of how you get the story out of your head, but don't really have anything to do with how you put the story together. Whether you type, write, or speak the story - you first have to put it together using one of the first 6 methods. similarly, whether you are working on one story at a time or multitasking, you still have to use one of the other methods to put each story together.

  6. Hi, Alan, I have read and heard about a rare few writers with such genius of mind that they mentally organize their story material and work out the details of their plots and characters and then output their stories in such a state that they need do minimal rewriting. So, technically, putting a story together is done by typing, writing, speaking, and thinking.

  7. Interesting article - really got me thinking!

    I agree with Alan that transcribing and dictating are the mechanics of how the story gets on paper and not a type of writer or a way of writing. Now, what you (Catherine) describe in the reply to Alan does sound like a different type - the "Mentalist," maybe? The person who works out the entire story in his/her mind and then sits down and "writes" it all out - which again, could be done from any one of the three mechanics of writing: writing long-hand, first dictating and then typing, and/or typing.

    I'm a piecemealer with a dash of constructionist - when I start writing I have the beginning and I have the end and then "mile markers" (discrete scenes) start popping up. About 2/3rds of the way through I have to stop and rearrange for flow and such and then that's about when I jettison something that's not working and then realize now the story doesn't logically make any sense and there's a lot of agonizing as I try to work out the kinks.

    1. I actually disagree(Hi, Terri!). In regards to the transcriber, I've sat in front of a computer and just stared, unable to think, but sometimes, there's something about when I have a pencil and notebook in my hands, the thoughts just move. I think it stems from that's how I started writing, because we didn't have a computer when I was a kid. It's legitimate. lol

  8. This cut me deep. I'm all of the odd numbers! Whatever fits at any given time!

  9. Hi, Terri--

    A "Mentalist"--I'll keep that in mind and do some more research before considering adding that type to my list--or reworking whichever category they may actually belong to. Thanks for the input.