Writer’s Den: Plotters vs. Pantsers
There are two types of writers in the world: those who plot out their writing, and those who write by the seat of their pants. Plotters and Pantsers. (Yeah, yeah, I hear you shouting about hybrids, we’ll talk about that later.) But who has it better? Who has an easier time pumping out those novels, and who sees the greatest success? Which method of writing is the best?
The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer. Writing a book isn’t about being the best. It’s such a subjective industry that no single person could ever be deemed the greatest, and no single method of writing could ever be the “right” way. Everyone is different. So rather than duke it out over this question, why don’t we explore the pros and the cons of each?
Plotters make outlines, event trees, character profiles, personality charts and explore every aspect of their novels on paper before they ever write a single word. Okay, this is extreme, but those are some of the tools of the trade (not by any means an exhaustive list). What makes this a good method? Well, it has the advantage that if you lose track of what your characters were supposed to be doing or where they were going, or what events were going on at that time, you have handy charts and outlines and such to help keep you on track. Some people use these things to avoid the dreaded writer’s block. It keeps their stories structured during the writing process and gives them a road map to show them where the story is going.
The downside to being a plotter is that if you over-plan the story, you might already feel like you’ve written the book before you start the actual writing. This can be somewhat demotivating, as nobody really wants to feel like they’ve done the same work twice. Also, stories that have been over-planned tend to be rigid and lack the organic feel that makes a good book feel natural. Sure, you can try to fix this during editing, but it will take a lot of beta readers to spot these types of problems.
Plotting can be very useful, but not everybody has the time or the patience or even the desire to plot out a whole novel before they start to write. It requires discipline, determination and a certain amount of innate ability in order to do this.
Brandon Sanderson is a documented plotter.
Those in the UK and elsewhere that refer to underwear as “pants” will get this term right away. But for others, a quick explanation: a pantser is somebody who writes by the seat of their pants. There is little to no plotting before they start to write, and they let the characters and the settings tell the story. It’s a very organic way to write, and the stories written like this tend to take more twists and turns, and often end in a place you never would have expected.
Pantsing your way through a story might be fun, but there are downsides to this method as well. Authors who write like this are more prone to writer’s block, and tend to get frustrated with their characters if they suddenly decide they don’t want to do what you thought they were going to do. This can lead to unfinished stories, sidetracked stories, or books that have so many twists and turns that they are confusing to read. Again, heavy beta reading will help weed these problems out, but one must be aware that they can and will show up in your work if you aren’t careful.
I’m a pantser myself, and allow the stories to come out how they come out.
Stephen King is a notorious pantser.
Recently, I’ve had people speak up and say that they do both. They plot part of the book, or loosely plot the whole thing, and then pants their way through the gaps. Or they might pants their way through portions, but plot other, more difficult scenes to help them keep track of things or to get through it without stumbling or sidetracking.
Certainly, using a hybrid approach to writing gives you additional tools to keep the words flowing, and if you get stumped on a scene, you can always try switching methods and see if it helps you get through it.
There aren’t many tips or tricks in this installment of Writer’s Den, and it’s because I believe that a person is, by nature, one or the other, and only a select few can do both effectively. If you’ve been trying to plot out a novel, and find that you are having trouble, try just writing down whatever comes to your head and pants it for a while. Conversely, if you get stuck pantsing it, try plotting out the next scene and that might help you get moving again.
Whether you’re a pantser, or a plotter, keep writing and have fun no matter what you do!