I’ve been looking forward to writing this for some time. And now that we’re at “P”…here goes!
Early on, I’d never heard of the difference between pantsters and plotters. I just wrote.
But then, as I interacted with other authors, I came to realize that everyone doesn’t write a story in the same way. Some people plan it all in advance. Others just flow with it, discovering things as they write. So here are the pros and cons of the two “systems” of writing.
Plotters: People write with their plot laid out before them, straight and narrow (and quite possibly, with walls on the sides). They know where they’re going and get there, exactly as they expected. Writing fiction is no different than writing a thesis paper or an article. They all follow a prescribed route, going from Point A to Point B and then on to Point C without detours or rabbit trails.
Pros: The discovery happens in the planning, so when you actually sit down to write, you aren’t side-tracked or thrown off by something a character says or does. You will probably not face as much writer’s block, save in the planning, because you’ll already know where you need to go and how to get there. And this can lead to being able to write more novels, faster, because you don’t have to rewrite as much.
Cons: Unless you’ve spent enough time in the planning stage, with an open mind, you can end up making your plot (and characters) go a certain way, even though they’d probably choose a different route. In the much-quoted and much-discussed interview on one of the main romances in Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling (who is supposed to be quite the plotter) spoke of how her writing style may have affected her writing:
“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron. I know, I’m sorry, I can hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans, but if I’m absolutely honest, distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility. “
This doesn’t mean it’s bad for the plot, or even that a different romance would’ve been “right,” but it does suggest some of the pitfalls a plotting writer can encounter because he or she already has an envisioned plot and writes to flesh out that plot–not to discover a new one.
Pantster: People who write to discover the story. This doesn’t mean that they have no idea of the plot–they may have plot outlines, or even have written a version of the story already–but they are committed to letting the story unfold as it is written, not as it was already envisioned. The path disappears from sight, as far as they’re concerned, and while it may go straight after that dark tree…it might also lead downhill directly to a dragon’s lair. They won’t know for sure until they write it.
Pros: Writing (the real work) gets sweeter by having discoveries tucked into the task. You are free to abandon earlier ideas, scenes, or whole characters at will, because nothing is “set in stone.” Romances are completely up for grabs, and you get to be along for the ride, just like a reader (or your characters).
Cons: Because your writing craft is like a sailboat, directed by the winds, you can end up far off course. You may go from A to B by way of Z, W, and L … only to realize that your story is too long and the pacing too slow. Not having a concrete plot usually means more rewrites, as you pare down the story from its sprawling form into what it should be (for the sake of pace, focus, etc.). And more rewrites means it can take you much longer to go from the story idea to a finished product.
What do you think? Did I leave out a major benefit or challenge? Which way do you write?
Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren
Photos by quicksandala and AngelaSJ, Creative Commons
19 thoughts on “A Pantster or a Plotter: How Do You Write? #amwriting #atozchallenge”
I am a total pantser by confession. I have an outline in my head of major points along the way, and the eventual end, but the rest comes out through exploration. I have a tendency to write shortened first drafts, hitting the major plot points, and then fleshing out smaller scenes between those points during my revisions. It is an interesting approach, but it works well for me. When I write the story the first time, I just want to reach the end and see how it all comes together!
That is an interesting approach, and a unique one. I’m somewhat similar, but primarily I add description in the revision process. I don’t usually add scenes…but it’s a neat idea, and I think being open to creativity all throughout the process is generally beneficial.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Oh I’m DEFINITELY a pantser! I could never plan a story out beforehand no matter how hard I try. I just have to follow the story with a general idea in mind and see where it leads me.
I’m glad to know I’m not alone. I’ve been working on my novel series for years now, and I have some alpha readers who are eager for me to move on and write new stuff, yet every time I rewrite the novels, I find new twists and turns that require my attention. (Hopefully, they are better for the work.) 🙂
Great post, Andrea, and well described. I plot to a certain point, particularly since I write mysteries and they need a vast amount of organization, but I couldn’t possibly plot a whole novel. If I did that, it would stop there and it would be a plotted outline rather than a novel. So, while I plot to a certain point, most of the writing goes by the seat of my pants. 🙂
That makes sense. I’ve never written a mystery, but I imagine that would require a great deal more planning. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
My first novel, I was totally a pantser. Took me 18 months to finish a 103k YA first draft. My second novel, I made an outline that I revised every few chapters as I went along. It took 2 months for me to complete a 52k MG first draft. Pantsing, I came with a lot of twists that I liked, but because I unknowingly repeated myself in several places due to the length of time it took the get through the draft. Plotting, I knew what I needed to do every time I sat down to write, so I was much more efficient.
What a great example of the differences! Your idea of outlining and revising as you go seems like a clever way to combine both methods, really. Thank you for sharing!
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I’m a bit of both. I’m a pantser in the beginning. I write into the story, nut out what’s going on. Then I stop and look at what I have and make a plan from there. I don’t always stick to it but that’s what works for me.
A hybrid…fascinating! I don’t know if I could do both, but it’s neat that works for you.
Thanks for stopping by!
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I like that. I’m a hybrid!
I’m a pantser who likes to write organically, letting my characters dictate the unforeseen twists and turns I didn’t plan for. I like to use some kind of outline and notes to know what happens when, but planning everything exactly isn’t my style. So many wonderful new characters and storylines come about because I don’t have everything down to the last letter. If I’d stayed to my original, juvenile plan for my first Russian historical, I never would’ve realized Lyuba loves Ivan instead of Boris, and that she’s been in love with him since childhood and even had a secret romance with him just before the book opens.
It’s so much more fun to let the characters reveal the story to you…even if it does confuse some readers, who think you should be calling all the shots. 🙂
I wrote my first novel as a pantser–more because I didn’t know anything about structure. Since that first one, I’ve found myself using some sort of hybrid. I start out without a clear plan, but usually by the end of the first act, I’ve outlined the rest of the book. Just this week I came across a Katytastic video about outlining using Scrivener (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=0ryXJ18eUp8 ), so I’m checking out a new way to organize myself now!
Interesting! I’ve never used Scrivener, but I’ve heard it helps many authors with their work. Let me know how it works for you.
I really love Scrivener, but there’s a somewhat steep learning curve. If you’re willing to invest some time into figuring it out upfront (they’ve got a great tutorial video), it’s a powerhouse for writers. I like being able to easily see different chapters, scenes, etc. right from one screen with one click. It’s especially useful for revising, I find, since I’m always skipping back and forth. I even use it for blog posts these days, too.
Wow! I had no idea you could use it for blog posts and writing. I think I’m far too linear to want to hop around while writing, but I can see how it would be useful.