Plot or Pants? Interview with Bestselling Author Hugh Howey - @hughhowey - #WriteTip

Today it is my honor to have bestselling author, Hugh Howey on the blog to share his writing process and his thoughts on plotting vs. pantsing. 

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I do a bit of both. I plot out the general storyline (the beginning, middle, and end), but I allow the characters to bob and weave within that framework (even rewrite the story in some cases). I think overly plotted books can be a bit dry and overly improvised books can wander and have less than satisfactory conclusions.

Why do you prefer one to the other?

Plotting keeps me focused on where the story is heading. It keeps the book from stalling at the ¾ mark. Improvising is where the great twists and turns come from and how dialog leads to character discovery. My style is to employ both. And that’s not a cop-out; it’s very deliberate on my part to plot to a certain degree and let the story flow as well.

Do you think the pantser can exist without the plotter?

I don’t know how anyone writes a decent story without some form of plotting. I understand that some authors do this, but it baffles me.

Some writers say: ‘the road to hell is paved with good outlines.’ Thoughts?

I think you can spend too much time on an outline and stick to it even when a better plot reveals itself, yes.

Can you describe your outlining process?

I make a ton of notes. They are out of order and jumbled. And then I tease out what order things need to happen and cut and paste the notes to go with rough chapters. I start writing and encounter my notes as I go. I also jump around and write scenes out of order as they come to me and rearrange them as needed.

Do you consider yourself a Linear or Non-linear writer? And why?

It depends on the story. If it’s a single POV, I write linearly. Most of my early books were written this way. Several more recent books that I've written have involved jumping back and forth between characters, which means I often write chapters out of order to stick with one character, and then splice them together afterward.

Where do you get your best ideas for plots?

Observation. Watching the world spin. Reading the newspaper every day. I can find a story in the paper every single morning that could be spun into a novel or a short story.

If you do outline for a novel, how much time and research do you do before starting the actual writing of the novel?

Almost none. I sketch the plot and start writing. I do a lot of daydreaming and thinking when I’m away from the computer to prepare for the next writing session.

What is your process for exploring your characters?

This is a weird one for me, but characters just seem to happen. They reveal themselves almost fully formed. I think, if you absorb enough fiction in your life, it becomes easy to dream up fleshed-out characters.

Do you fill out character Bios/interviews for your main characters before writing their story?

Nope. Sounds like fun, though.

What is one writing book that you highly recommend?

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.

Do you write a synopsis for each book before you write it?

No. I hate synopses. I loathe them. I find them impossible to write.

While you might start with an issue or theme in mind, themes will also develop or emerge as you write, so how important do you think “theme” is to your writing process?

Very important. I always have a theme I want to explore with any story. It’s one of the primary reasons I write.
Fun Bonus Questions

What book are you currently reading?

BAILOUT by Neil Barofsky

What’s your favorite movie or TV show?

Modern Family and Big Bang Theory

Favorite color?


Laptop or desktop?


Where can we stalk you online?

Official Website: http://www.hughhowey.com

Twitter name and URL: @hughhowey

Author Bio:

Hugh Howey's Wool series became a sudden success in the Fall of 2011. Originally just a novelette, the demand from Amazon reviewers sent him scurrying to write more tales in this subterranean world. The resulting Omnibus has spent considerable time in the Amazon top 100, has been a #1 Bestseller in Science Fiction on Amazon, and was optioned by Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian for a potential feature film. The story of its success has been mentioned in Entertainment Weekly, Variety, and Deadline Hollywood among many others. Random House is publishing the hardback version in the UK in January of 2013. He lives in Florida with his wife Amber and their dog Bella.    

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1 comment

  1. Good article. I am going through many of these issues as well..


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