The Business and Craft of Writing: Pantsing vs. Plotting

A while back I was talking with some of my family and I mentioned that I was a pantser*. They gave me a very confused look. I’m sure that if you’re just barely getting into writing, you’re equally confused.

flying2bby2bthe2bseat2bof2bhis2bpants

When I say I’m a pantser, it refers to the phrase “flying by the seat of their pants.” In other words, I don’t plan out my books before I write them. I literally sit down and start writing. Who knows what’s going to happen this writing session? Frequently, I’ll write something and then sit back and go, “Huh. Did not see that coming. Now what?”

Other people (arguably more sane/organized than I am) sit down and write an outline before they start writing. That is plotting. In a later post, I’ll go more into detail about what’s involved with plotting and outlining since there are far too many options to go into detail right now. tenor

I’ve heard pantsing and plotting also referred to as gardener and architect. A gardener will plant story seeds and see what grows and the architect plans out the entire story before they start building.

Generally, writers will claim one side or the other, but in actuality, this isn’t a zero-sum game. Most people land somewhere in between and even change how they write depending on their project.

My usual writing process looks like this:

  • Come up with cool idea
  • Play around with idea in my head
  • Come up with vague ideas of events in the story
  • Start writing
  • Get stuck
  • Look at idea some more
  • Start writing again
  • Get stuck
  • Sit down and write down vague ideas
  • Write
  • Get stuck
  • Figure out next two or three scenes
  • Write
  • Repeat last three steps

This process is often referred to as road-mapping/road-tripping (among other things), but it’s a combination of pantsing and plotting.

Pantsing is great for really getting to know and understand your characters, but tend to have plot issues. You know how you read a book with amazing characters and then you reach the end and think…. “That’s it? That was such a let-down.” It was probably written by a pantser.

Plotting, *surprise surprise* tends to have the reverse problem(s). Everything fits soooo well together and “Did you see that foreshadowing in Ch 5??? That was awesome!” but the characters are kinda flat and boring. You totally know what the villain is going to do because you’ve seen that same thing before.

Ideally, if you tend toward one end of the spectrum instead of the other, you won’t have any of those issues because you’ll revise your story multiple times before it gets published.

*No, I do not go around de-pantsing people. I haven’t done that since I was like ten.

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