Photo credit: Wonderlane via / CC BY

Writing: Plotter vs. Pantser

Photo credit: Wonderlane via / CC BY
Photo credit: Wonderlane via / CC BY

When we make the decision to become a writer, it is because there is a story so urgent to be told, that it won’t leave us alone until we tell it.

Some writers will brainstorm for hours taking copious notes on: where their characters need to go during the story, who they are destined to meet in order to get them to a certain scene, what mistakes they will make to build their character, what is at stake (arguably the most important thing to know), and where they will be at the end of it all. They will outline-and-outline until they are blue in the face, mapping out the entire book before they sit down in front of the blank white screen (or paper) to write those first words. These types of writers have been given the name, “Plotters.”

Others feel the need to let the story grow and build organically. Such writers may know their character’s personality and have a few specific ideas they want to work into the plot. No doubt, they may even have an idea about the antagonist and how they factor into the overall story. Aside from these basic concepts though, they leave the outlining to the Plotters in order to jump in front of the computer straightaway and begin writing. The road ahead is untraveled, but the excitement is in having no idea where it will take them. For these types of writers, the name “Pantsers” has been given. You know, “fly by the seat of your pants” types. If you are trying to figure out which type of writer you want to be, take a visit over to The Magic Violinist’s post on The Pros and Cons of Plotters and Pantsers (@Magic_Violinist).

What type of writer am I?

I would say the road for me isn’t quite so black and white, but you will definitely find me hanging out on the side with the rest of the Pantsers.

Before I begin writing, I usually have a page or two of ideas I’ve come up with while thinking up the story I’d like to write. These may include how I want a certain scene to go, or what characters I want included in the story. The ideas I come up with often change, but they are a basis I look back on if I get stuck at any point while writing my book.

Right now, I have notes written up for two fantasy books, an amigurumi book of patterns, and four picture book ideas just sitting there waiting for me to pick them back up. When one of these ideas shouts at me louder than the rest, I will give its notes a read, and then I’ll be ready to sit down at my computer to start typing out the story. I like to keep my options open when it comes to which book to write next.

What I don’t do, is sit down outlining the book chapter-by-chapter. The reason I choose to be on the Pantser’s side of things is because I like letting my books and characters have a say in how they are written. My characters sometimes take me directions I didn’t expect to go. The way I see it, if these unexpected turns are half as much fun for my readers to read as they are for me to write, it’s worth my not plotting them out ahead of time. There’s just something about not knowing where your book will end up that I find intriguing.

Will Pantsers end up doing more on the editing side of things?

Sometimes. I wouldn’t say this is true for all, but sometimes you will end up having ideas that spark later in the writing process that will mean editing a part/scene you’ve already written, but as Ernest Hemingway so accurately put it, “The only kind of writing is re-writing.” For a Pantser it is perhaps even more important to look for continuity in our writing during the editing phase, than it would be for a Plotter (See my post next week on Continuity in Writing).

Whichever side you tend to find yourself on, being a Plotter or a Pantser will not make you a better writer. We all have our own unique techniques and ways to write. What is guaranteed to make you a better writer? Keep writing. Get those words down on the page.

It’s a simple formula: Writer + Writing = Better Writer.

Photo credit: djking via / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: djking via / CC BY-NC-SA

4 thoughts on “Writing: Plotter vs. Pantser”

    1. Thank you, Sheila! I only heard about these terms last year while I was making my way through NanoWriMo. I found it an interesting concept and it made sense that writers processes were different. I just hadn’t known, at the time, that there was a name for it!

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