Plotting or Pantsing?? (Part 1 of 3)

This will be a three part post. (shorter posts equals happy readers) I was going to write a post about structuring your novel. Should you plot or pants it? Of course, I have an opinion, I always do, but I wanted to know where everyone else stood in terms of whether or not to structure their work before beginning. What am I talking about? I’ll clarify.

Plotter: Outlines novel from beginning to end before writing. Research, characters, setting, etc. is all firmly planned and fleshed out before typing a word of the story.

Pantser: Just as it sounds, the writer sort of ‘flies by the seat of their pants’. These writers just go with their inspiration and follow the story where it leads them. (shudders at the thought)

Obviously these are the extremes. There are many writers who fall somewhere in the middle. First I want to hear your thoughts. Are you a Plotter or a Pantser? Or do you fall somewhere in the middle? Are you a Plontser? How important is it for the writer to establish a firm outline? Is it more important to allow the creative juices to flow, without forcing them into a structure? How do you begin? What are your thoughts?

I’m also wondering whether your writing methods depend on the genre in which the you write in. I know that historical, fantasy, and science fiction writers have to research; gathering facts, building worlds and languages, and things like that before they write. I can’t imagine pantsing it with this type of writing. I’ve written both ways, and I prefer plotting simply because I’m easily distracted.

So hit me with your comments. How do you write? (smartasses can kindly refrain from the urge to say ‘carefully’ or ‘one word at a time’. Yeah, I know who you are.)

20 thoughts on “Plotting or Pantsing?? (Part 1 of 3)

  1. I plot (and scheme, connive, manipulate – but that's a different story!) so that every scene is outlined, characters have bios, geography and time line are established, before I even start. Synopsis and treatment written and ready. Oscar acceptance speech rehearsed…Then I write the thing. Which of course deviates wildly from the plan after the first third of the story is done.Then I do it again during the editing. Detail the plot as it is NOW, then write to it again, hopefully without too much deviation the second time.

  2. So you do a second outline? Interesting. I've never considered that. Is that to weed out 'holes' and character flaws and things like that? Or just because you're anal? Mine always deviate too. Damn things.

  3. I was teasing you. I'm going to try that actually with a few 'stalled' stories. I tried outlining earlier but I've written myself into a corner with them. So maybe an overview would help. Or just scrapping and starting over. But that seems like so much work…

  4. I've got to fly by the seat of my pants. I find that if I know where the story is going then I have a hard time finishing it. Obviously this creates lots of problems on the back end but the first draft is always hardest for me and once I get something on paper I can always clean up my mess later.

  5. Coyote Dreams was all pants, but Firebug has gone as far as it can that way and now requires an outline. So, I'm graduating from pants to plot.

  6. Charles; That's interesting. I find it harder to finish if I don't know where I'm going. Oddly, I've never plotted a short story. I write those as they come to me. It's the longer works, the full novels, that I find plotting helps. Otherwise I have a rambling mess and it takes forever to get to the ending. Cleaning up my mess gives me hives though. What genres do you write in? Notice I said 'genres' not just one. I've tested a few genres lately and I find it interesting to find out that I approach each differently.Wendy; I think it will be interesting to see if the rewrite on Firebug will be as intensive as Coyote Dreams. The difference in your approach might be because Firebug's plot has more layers than the first. What do you think?Henry; I can sympathize. That's the reason I tried plotting originally. I felt scattered and I was working on several projects at one time, making little headway in any of them. Now, I'm still working on several, but I've finished two major manuscripts and I have a little file full of outlines for new stuff. It's easier for me to see where I'm at. Just an extra note: I rarely look at the outline once I have the first couple of chapters done. At the end, before I begin rewriting, I compare. Strange?

  7. Interesting. I'd always assumed that the thing that separated bloggers from writers is that writers are plotters and bloggers are pantsers. How wrong I am to make assumptions.

  8. You know what assume did….This is a big debate in the writing world you know. Some feel very strongly about the proper way to create. I think they need to chillax. But it's interesting. Wait…you don't plot your blogs??

  9. I write fantasy so I do, as you mentioned, research and outline quite a bit before I start write. Most of that is for characterization and background, though. I generally only do a minimal outline for the plot; I know the beginning and the ending, but not much else. The storyline tends to unfold for me as I write.

  10. Hi Renée, I have to know where a short story is going before I start. Sometimes the overall plot is in my head and I write the details by 'discovery'. This can be exciting, but a it's a bit like skiing without goggles. My historical novel will be more thoroughly organized. I'm still researching and making decisions about some of the locations and historical details. Jeanne

  11. 'skiing without goggles' I like that, Jeanne. I usually have a general idea too, it's the details that are a mystery. Of course, the details are the most important part.

  12. Sorry A.F. I didn't see your post there. So you're a plotter just for research purposes? You don't find it difficult to write without the outline? I'm impressed. I know how much attention to detail goes into writing fantasy. My mind wouldn't retain it all. I'd have definite holes, big holes.

  13. I used to pants it, but over the last 6 months or so, I've moved to plotting. What I like about plotting is that I can then write any point of the story that interests me at the moment. Pantsing it, I had to write from beginning to end, no jumping. Now I can write in the middle and make it grow until all the bullet points meet.This makes for faster writing for me. I get bored or stuck less often.But my outlines are not very strict. It can take me 1000 or more words to fill out the story for one bullet point. This gives me a lot of room to let the characters surprise me. Or to allow the details to blossom.Great topic, Renee.

  14. Good point. Thanks for pointing it out Rita. I like that if I'm not able to write a particular scene, I can move to another plot point and go back to the one that's giving me trouble later. But I rarely write 'out of order'. I don't know why. OCD or something? If I happen to write a later scene first, I'm all anxious and weird until I write the rest of it to catch up. Okay, I'm anxious and weird anyway. I'm more anxious and weird. How about that?Yes, I will be writing a post about repetition. For those of you who get all anxious and weird about writers doing what I've just done here. Relax. Take a breath. It will be all right.

  15. I wrote you some of this on Facebook. Basically, I don't like the word "plotter" much. I do like to outline. As we have discussed, tackling a longer work without knowing where is going is, well, crazy. Most of my stuff starts with a scene I see in my head instead of a plot. It's after I have some scenes and characters in my head that I start thinking of a plot to tie it all together. I don't I've ever started anything with the plot first.

  16. Plotter in this case (to me anyway) means Planner. Plotter is more fun to say though. So it's not so much that you focus on plot, but you plan out the novel, from beginning to end, and you include in that plan your research, characters, setting, etc. I'm getting the impression though that most of us are Plontsers to some degree. We like to plan a little but we also allow our imagination to take control now and then while writing.

  17. I am amazed at writers who can do that. I know several do and are very good. The very idea makes me all itchy and nervous. If I write a scene out of sequence it drives me crazy until I've reached a point where I can put it in. Actually, I have a scene sitting right now for a new project and it's a later scene. It's driving me nuts. Well, more nuts.

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