Pantsers & Plotters

Hey hey hey — it’s Writing Wednesday!

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Apparently there are two big categories of writers: “pantsers” and “plotters” (or “planners”). Until this year, I’d never heard those terms before, so I’ve been living in one category my whole life without realizing it. I… am a “pantser.”

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“Pantsers” are writers who “fly by the seat of their pants” or write without using an outline. I’ve never outlined something before writing it. If a teacher assigned me an essay and an outline, I’d write the essay, then tailor the outline to fit what I wrote.

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I begin with characters. Once I’ve gotten to know them, I think about what situation I’d most like to see them react to. Then I sit down and watch it unfold. This isn’t to say that I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen over the course of the story. Wherever there are categories, there are people who don’t fit into them without gray-area caveats. I tend to have big scenes planned out in my head, and sometimes an ending that I’m working toward. But I like to be surprised by how we get from one scene to the next. When you and the characters both have your hands on the steering wheel, there’s room for them to react in ways you didn’t expect. If what happens in the story catches you off guard organically, there’s a good chance your readers will be surprised, too.

But just because every single piece isn’t planned out doesn’t mean you aren’t in control of the story. I nudge the flow of the narrative in the direction I ultimately want it to go, but I don’t force anything. Generally, you can tell when an author’s stuck their hand in and shoved characters into place inside a shoehorned event because what’s happening doesn’t make sense when you think about what you’ve come to know about each character. However, you also run the risk as a “pantser” of losing control of the story, which means you might end up with a totally different story than the one you intended to tell. In a bad way. (Stories that veer off and become completely different stories is actually one of the reading pet peeves I mentioned in an earlier post.) How do you avoid losing control? By staying connected to what you’re writing. There are several ways to do this: making notes, listening to music that puts you in mind of your story’s mood, thinking about how characters would react to things that are happening to you, etc. I stay connected by working through the next bit of the story in my head — specifically, how to begin the next section, which usually sets me on course right away.

Outlining makes me feel constrained. While I know logically that I can always change an outline, I’d probably end up changing it so many times that it wouldn’t even make sense to have one. I think a bit of pantsing and a bit of planning over the course of either type of writer’s process can be helpful but, in the end, you have to work in the way that’s best for you.

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Are you a “pantser” or a “planner”?

 

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6 thoughts on “Pantsers & Plotters

  1. OOoooh I was meaning to ask you this! I’ve always been more of a pantser, due to sheer laziness more than it actually working for me. So now I’ve started trying to actually structure things and plan it out meticulousy and I’m not sure how that’s going either, but it’s making me feel like I’ve got my shit together, so that’s something.

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    • Sounds like you might be a planner! I say go for what feels good. I can definitely see the appeal of having total control of everything that happens in a story. Especially since Reality laughs in your face before dropping a garbage truck on you any time you even start to think you have control of your own life.

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  2. Ha ha, we’ve discussed this. I, too, try to outline my characters – although only since I’ve really started being a planner – when I started I was never really a planner, but really tried to learn to be. Maybe I am a planster?

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    • “Planster” is the perfect word for a t-shirt. I might give you one as a present. I don’t even outline characters — I just develop them in my head to the point where I know enough about them to start writing, but not everything. I like being surprised by them, too, when they reveal aspects of themselves that I didn’t see before.

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  3. Oh I think I’m halfway in between haha when an idea grips me I just write along as much as I can. However, when I get stuck I try to write an outline of events to make sure everything makes sense and I definitely also write up back stories for my characters to make sure they are well rounded 🙂

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