Builder vs. Wanderer

Throughout the site you might note the use of the phrases “builder” and “wanderer” in the various menus and options, and might also wonder what they are referring to.  Well here is the answer.

In a nutshell the two words describe “how” most people write anything…not just stories.  Either you “build” a story, or “wander” around finding it.  I learned this trick from Brandon Sanderson (although he uses “architect” and “gardener” as his descriptors).

Think about how you might write an essay for school.  Either you plan ahead, creating an outline, deciding a thesis, checking out sources and noting their usefulness; or you just jump right in, carving out your thesis as you write it, looking up sources only as you think you need them (and then giving the whole thing another go through to make sure your logic is sound).  Those that hammer things out ahead of time are builders, and those that go back and make sure the paths are straight are wanderers.  Neither way is wrong, but neither is completely correct either.

It takes a little bit of both wandering and building to write something like a novel, but every author has their own mix.  You  probably should check out both sides of the coin, but equally important is knowing where you are starting from.  Here are a few helpful hints:




A story for a builder is approached like any big project, with planning.  There is a grand blueprint for the story along with reams of notes backing it up.  Characters are meticulously thought out and move exactly as they are supposed to.  The whole plot is a wonder of clockwork, every piece moving precisely and every moment fulfilling some specific story function.  The main weakness of builders is that they tend to get lost in the woodwork, forever tinkering with the mechanics behind the scenes and not actually “writing” anything to be read by other human beings.

You might be a builder if…

  • You like to plan out as many elements of your story as possible before you start writing.
  • Things like character sheets and outlines sound like fun to you.
  • Despite knowing your plot back to front, you stare at the first page and wonder just what you wanted to put there…and you curse that dreaded writers block.
  • Your characters work for YOU and any frippery on their part gets crumpled up and thrown away.
  • The phrase “Just as Planned” accompanied by an evil cackle accompanies significant portions of your writing.

Stories written by builders tend to…

  • Have grand intricate plots that move along like clockwork.
  • Feature prominent “plot twists” that realign nearly everything you’ve read in the story previously.
  • Have strong climaxes that resolve everything important.
  • And the elements that aren’t resolved are probably going to be addressed in future novels.


Dark Forest

A story for a wanderer is like a man trailblazing in the wilderness.  He might have an idea where he’s going, or he might not, but where ever it is, it’s better than just staying here.  Characters tend to surprise him with quirks and backstory details he never could have imagined…but upon imagining them, backtracks a bit to work them in.  Plot twists fascinate him because he is surprised by them too…of course Hans is the villain! who else could it be?  This sort of writer also works a little better in collaborative projects since he is very adaptive to the situation at hand, and half the fun of this is seeing where the whole thing goes.  The main weakness of a wanderer is that he gets distracted off on a tangents easily, or sometimes paints himself into a corner…but that’s a problem for the future, right now let’s just go and see where we end up.

You might be a wanderer if…

  • Your plots tend to meander around, finding their own way through the deep dark woods.
  • Things like outlines and character sheets sound like too much like work and you never use them.
  • You might have an idea of where your plot is going but are never really sure how you’re getting there.
  • Nothing you write is set in stone, and can be changed for any reason whatsoever
  • You LOVE it when characters surprise you!  The surprises are the best part.
  • You get halfway through a story before realizing you have no idea how you’re going to end it…and the writers block smacks you hard.
  • You have to go back and justify this cool idea you just had that improves the story by leaps and bounds.

Stories written by Wanderers tend to…

  • Have a strong likable characters you’d be happy to just hang around with not doing much of anything.
  • What plot twists there are tend to be more “out of the blue.”
  • What elements don’t get resolved by the climax may or may not get addressed in the sequel…the author will have to see if that’s the direction he wants to go.

And there you go.  Wanderer and builder.  Once you know what kind of writer you are primarily, you can better choose what stacks you need to look through…sometimes it is just a tool you have not used yet…other times you need to go across the fence and borrow one from your neighbor.  Whatever works, whatever gets it done.

Until next time, keep writing.


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