Posted in Mini-Lessons, Writing Advice

Pantsing and Plotting

When you sit down to write, you may grab a yellow legal pad, stare at the blank screen with the blinking cursor, or scribble notes on the back of a napkin at your local Starbucks. Regardless of the medium, when it comes to method, writers generally fall into one of two categories: pantsers and plotters.

The pantsers are the ones who fly by the seat of their pants, and the plotters are the ones who plan first, draft later. There’s nothing wrong with either strategy, but they both have their advantages and disadvantages.


Pantsers

The advantage to pantsing is that you can get into the story right away. There’s no waiting time, just fingers on the keys. Also, the story comes together organically, so the characters may surprise you from time to time. You get to know them along with the reader.

The disadvantage to pantsing is that you may have to do significant amounts of revision to the arc of the story later on. (That’s not to say that plotters won’t revise; they certainly will, but it might look a little different.) If you work yourself into a corner, you have to figure out what went wrong and backtrack a bit to get yourself and your character back onto the right track.

Some pantsers do a little bit of plotting. They may know where the story starts, where the climax occurs, and where it should end, but the rest is up to the characters.

Plotters

Plotters spend time before they start drafting the work to plan out how the story will progress. They may do character profiles, outlines, or create a board on Pinterest for their story. The spend time plotting and scheming, taking control back from the characters.

One advantage to plotting is that the writing often flows more quickly once you have an idea of where you are and exactly where you want to go. Plotters also may not have to do as much story arc revision either. Also, by the time they start drafting the work, they are pretty familiar with the characters and the tone that they want the story to have.

However, there are some disadvantages as well. Inevitably, the characters will fight back for control, and the plotter may have to revise the outline or character profile. And those things could take the story in a completely different direction. What happens when you planned for a character to be a good guy, but he does something that puts him directly on the writer’s antagonist list? Plotting can help avert those problems, but it won’t solve them all.

Thus, even the most die-hard plotter might find himself doing a little pantsing dance somewhere along the way.


So…how do you write? Have you given your writing process any serious thought? Let us know in the comments!

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One thought on “Pantsing and Plotting

  1. It depends on the length of the story. For short (4k-10k) I usually start with an idea, or a character, and let fly. With that short of an arc, if something goes awry, I can usually get back on track pretty quickly. The characters tell me what to do, and there are almost always huge surprises that come out of dialog between characters.

    For longer works, anything over 15k, and certainly for individual stories or a series where it’s upwards of 60k, I need some kind of a plot. What usually happens for those is I write a first chapter, and then outline the rest of the chapters, based on where I think the story might be headed. I’ve got a rough outline, enough guidance to keep me going for most of the story…but I never manage to plot the ending. I may know I want an HEA or know who the heroine will end up with (I write romance) but it’s not until I actually write those words that I know how the story ends. And sometimes it’s not an HEA and she picks the other guy. There was a recent story that was to have a clear choice between two guys…the heroine ended up with both. Not plotted or planned, and not even what I was supposed to write. But that’s how they characters wanted it.

    I am a pantser at heart, but have learned that having a plot keeps me heading more or less in the expected direction, and more importantly, keeps my word count in check. When there is no plot (as in this comment) I tend to just keep writing.

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