Pantsing vs Plotting

I wanted to take a quick stab at “pantsing” vs “plotting.” I know I referenced this in a prior blog, and thought I’d expand here.

Let’s define.

Pantsing – To fly by the seat of your pants. Just write and let it flow.
Plotting – Build an outline. Come up with your story and points, and then execute on the plan.

First, which is better?

The weak answer: Neither. Both are more a representation of style, and different authors have different styles.

The strong answer: Depends on where you want to spend your time.

Lets look at each and think about how each go.

A pantser is going to sit and write, and whatever comes out of the pen (keyboard) is where the story goes. Live dynamically and just let it flow.
Pros: The story probably feels more organic because each scene led to the next; you actually start writing
Cons: A lot of what gets written may end up getting thrown away because it meandered

A plotter is going to spend some more upfront time planning out how the dominoes are going to fall.  However, once that plan is done, the story is pretty much halfway there.
Pros: Writing the first draft can often go very quickly because a lot of key details are mapped out, reworks are minimized because you know what you need to set up for
Cons: Some authors get trapped to their outline, trying to “force it” to work even if the story moves in a different direction, some people spend so much time working on the outline they never actually write the story.

I think most authors are probably somewhere in the middle of these two poles, but I know I’m more of a plotter. I often envision the end of my story and several key moments in the story before I begin writing and those form the framework of my outline, which I then flesh out. Here’s a summary of 4 things I plot, and 4 things that break my plot.

Plotter

1) The End – I often write this scene first because it’s so emotionally charged. It serves as my north star as I write that I want to build setup for.

2) Characters – I often created fleshed out character bios because it tells me who they are, and helps me think about how they’ll respond to situations. I also list which ones I think will be point of view characters.

3) Key Moments – Especially in novels, I have a few scenes that I know I want to write. Those become marks on my outline.

4) Build-up – I may not know how I want to do it, but I will write on my outline things I want to build up to. An example might represent a character falling from grace. I know I want him likable at the beginning of the story, but a complete tyrant by the end. So my outline will include notes that a scene needs to exist to show the decline

Pantser

1) Characters changes – I’ll outline a major character, but as I write, that character changes and now what once was a heroic backup has now become plucky comic relief. What once was a bit character has become a “mini-boss” frequently showing up and foiling the main character. These changes require me to change things around.

2) Plot tangeants/shifts – I remember on my Greyscape novel, I had a character I sort of wanted to cameo… Not major, but it was going to be setup for a future story. However, as I started to write about the relationship between my hero and this other character, they forged a bond. There was no way Nathsh was going to leave Gevok. Now I had a companion for a scene to come later, a companion that had a far more meaningful part to play… And a far more meaningful exit in the event I build story around that character later.

3) “Whoops” Moments – I’ve accidentally killed some one. That’s pretty tough. It’s even worse when they die halfway through the book and you had already written a really epic death scene later. It wasn’t nearly so epic, but the moment the character died was hugely meaningful because it created a weakness in my hero at a really inopportune time. Hadn’t planned it that way, and certainly I had to rework several pieces of my plot… One more big reason to not start editing until after you finish your draft.

4) New Characters – Sometimes as I’m writing I add somebody in for the moment and end up having to figure out how I’m going to work them into the rest of the story.

Are you a pantser or a plotter? Which do you think is better?

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3 thoughts on “Pantsing vs Plotting

  1. I’m definitely a plotter. I like to know my characters and have some idea where I want to take them (or they take me) before I start so I don’t get lost halfway through. As I plot, there’s lost of creativity going on and I leave room for the character to take me in a different direction than I started with. However, I don’t think plotting is necessarily better for everyone, since creative styles differ.

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    1. Levine – Totally agree on getting lost sometimes. I’ve got a few stories that I started without at least having a baseline of where I wanted to go, and then started to run into problems as I wrote. The whole thing turned into a ramble. And yes, everybody has their own style, and no one style fits all!

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