{DISCUSSION} Plotter vs. Pantser

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

It’s April, and that means it’s camping time! Haha! No. I don’t mean tents and fires, but rather camp for NaNoWriMo! Woo!

But… it’s not November. o.O

You are absolutely write! ;p It’s not November. It’s April. And this isn’t NaNo, but Camp NaNo, which occurs in April (and July.) Now, it’s a little different from NaNo in that, it’s not nearly as popular (or well-known). Also, instead of a giant forum, writers are assigned cabins where they have a group of up to nineteen other writers to interact with throughout the month.

It’s also different from NaNo because you can set your own goal for camp! You can stick to the traditional 50,000 words or you can lower/boost your word count. Or you can even set your goal at a number of hours if you’re editing instead of drafting!

But like any writing competition one thing must be decided well before the writing month ever arrives:

Will you be a Plotter or a Pantser? 

Plotter: Someone who takes precious amounts of time to detail out their plot, flesh out their characters (including their backstories, their goals, their personalities, how they’ll change), design their world (complete with pictures, diagrams, pinterest boards and the like). Heck! The plotter may even take the time to design a music playlist for their book.

Pantser: Has the vaguest of ideas for their novel. Have the beginning of a plot. Probably have a beginning. Might have an ending. Are most definitely missing a vital element to their story. They’re planning to let their characters tell them who they are rather than dictating to the characters who they are. Really, they just fly by the seat of their pants, throws words at a blank page, and pray it all makes coherent sense when they’re done.

Now, the question becomes:
is one better than the other?

Weeeell, I probably would have said ‘yes’ in recent years. I would have said that this is how my story is plotted out and how it will go. (Yes, I am a plotter, myself.) I would know exactly where my story began and ended (might scramble a bit for a middle), but then this year came around.

I spent all of March plotting out my novel. I set up the book scene-by-scene. I set up backstories. I set up interactions. (I struggle with world a smidge since it’s my very first space opera, but more on that tomorrow during my update post.) And I started writing! I was so psyched!

But my characters developed minds of their own (realistic minds, I might add), that threw off my ENTIRE PLOT!

All that plotting I spent countless, pain-staking hours slaving over was WORTHLESS! I had hit THE WALL and I had no idea how to get around it. It was such a burden that I couldn’t put a single other WORD on paper! But… I didn’t know how to be a pantser! It-It’s wrong! It’s BLASPHEMY! There was NO way I was going to just keep writing and pray it all worked out and I didn’t.

Frankly, I don’t know how pantser minds work. My brain is FAR too logical and organized, and I don’t know how a story ever manages to come together for these people. I am, and likely always will be a plotter, and I’m not alone. But maybe there is some hidden glory behind being a pantser.

What do you think?
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
What are the benefits/side effects of your style?
Let me know in the comments!

And check out my discussion from last week:

24 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} Plotter vs. Pantser”

  1. I’m very much a plotter, but I give myself the freedom to divert from the plots (both complex for novels, and simplistic for short stories) while writing. If I’m in the first draft, I’ll just run with it and make sure I’m not creating any crazy plot holes. Once I hit revision time, all bets are off. The thing is, no matter how you write, time seems to be the common thread of quality work. I find all kinds of mistakes in my drafts and first revisions, no matter how painstakingly I lay them out, and I need to give time & thought to solve those problems. Most of my “pantser” friends seem to echo that sentiment when it comes to problem solving.

    It seems to come down to a “pay now or pay later” situation, where plotters front load a lot of effort to avoid issues like writer’s block, etc, while pantsers forge ahead risking the need to think things through in the moment. I think writing style is a personal decision, as you mentioned above, it seems like neither method works 100% of the time.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this is a great way to approach it. Neither one is better than the other, but simply a difference in when the workload is divided up: now or later. It’s a very interesting way to look at it and I think it’s a much more inclusive way, as well.

      I’m still a younger writer, but based on some comments, I get the feeling that many writers have been admonished for their particular style in the past. I don’t think that’s appropriate. We can learn a lot from a different style of writing. Who knows! Maybe it will even help us through the difficult parts by allowing us to look at our stories from a different angle. 🙂

      Thank you for sharing your opinion! I think it’s a great thing to keep in mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a pantser, without a doubt. Structure and organization makes me freeze and blocks my way. Give me a blank page and an idea, I’ll run with it and see where it takes me. My first Nanowrimo novel was written with just a vague idea for day one. I wrote the whole month without any idea of where I was going. Admittedly, it was quite awful but in there somewhere is a good fantasy epic I’ll come back to one day.

    I read somewhere recently that pantsing could also be called exploratory writing. I like that, it describes my mindset when I write.

    Just a few weeks ago finished another story, based on a short story I wrote last year. I had a vague idea where I wanted it to go and just went for it. As I wrote the story just fell into place and actually came out better than I thought it would.

    Having said that, now that I’m done with this most recent story, there is some element of organization I’ll have to do to make sure everything fits together. Are the technologies involved feasible? Are the timelines realistic and so on. So, before I embark on the next draft, I’ll be spending a month organizing and then I’ll go for it again.

    There are definitely drawbacks to being a pantser but I embrace the freedom of just seeing where a story takes me and then I’ll suffer through the details later.

    So, i guess we’re a bit on the opposite ends of the spectrum. As a pantser, I’d say, let the characters take you on a journey, see where it takes you. Just make it an experiment in pantsing 🙂 pretend it’s just research. Then when you’re done, you can decide whether to force your characters back in line with your outline or modify your outline to fit where your characters take you.

    By the way, anything “space” I’d love to read ;)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like your mindset. It sounds very… freeing. I fear that we plotters do often get bogged down in the details. Sometimes we see everything planned out so well that if it doesn’t follow our outline we tend to freak out and freeze (as I did during the first week.) But allowing myself to be more open about the sudden changes and let them take over the story, creating alterations from my original plan, I realized it made the character interactions a lot stronger than they likely would have been had I stuck to my plan.

      Though, frankly, even as I do consider myself a plotter, my characters don’t always agree. :p They tend to take on minds of their own and just go gallavanting off onto a squiggly, non-existent path instead of the brick road I paved for them. So, plotting really only gets me so far anyway. Haha! But I like plotting a lot for main framework and world building. Since I have pretty heavy world building, having the details planned out ahead of time allow me to keep to my flow of writing when drafting rather than having to pause and figure things out in the middle of a scene.

      So, I agree with you that there are definitely advantages and disadvantages to both styles. I also think we can learn from each other.

      Haha! I will keep that in mind should I ever actually finish this space opera. 😉 Best of luck with your writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think most writers need a combination of the two, though most lean one way or the other. I lean very much towards being a pantser. Maybe.

    Where short fiction is concerned, I am often almost 100% pantser – I’ll think of an idea and then write out the story as if taking dictation. In this mode I’ll go from seeing a prompt to having a 1200 word story written and posted is less than an hour (like today’s story). Sometimes much less. Are they any good? You tell me.

    When it comes to longer works, I will do as much as I can with seat of the pants driving, but there comes a time that I have to sit down with pencil and paper (using the computer doesn’t work) and do a lot of organization work. But in ways, even that isn’t totally fair….

    Baking up a step I have to tell you that I do much of my writing, long or short, in my head before I touch a keyboard. For something like today’s story I’ll make it up and type it out at the same time. For anything much more complex, I will write it in my head. I’ll go through a few revisions, still in my head, and then write it out as it already exists. And yes, I’m also talking my book length works. For these more complex works I spend almost as much time walking (my favorite writing position) as I do in front of the computer banging on the keyboard. For a short but complex work I might spend a half an hour walking for every 5 minutes of keyboard time, working out details, characterization, subtle points of plot, backstory, etc., most of which never makes it to the page. So in that regard, I am 100% a plotter, but the plotting takes place 100% in my brain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh! I hadn’t even thought about short fiction writing when I was writing this discussion (as I never connect NaNo with short pieces), but I completely understand! I’m 100% a pantser when it comes to short fiction. I’ll have like… half an idea and then just start throwing words at the page and seeing where they take me. This may result in a couple of re-drafts and edits while drafting, but I think it works better for short fiction. Short fiction (in my mind) isn’t nearly as meticulous or lengthy. It doesn’t need to hide and steer readers away for as long and doesn’t require as much filler content. At least in my pieces, but perhaps your experience is different?

      Huh. I don’t think I could EVER plot in my brain. Though… my brain doesn’t like boxes and therefore likes to run on tangents. I have a hard time staying on one thought some days, much less remember where I started that thought. Thus, when I’m plotting novels, EVERYTHING gets scribbled down on paper whether I think I might use it or not. (And I like paper because then I can place it WHEREVER I want on the page. i.e. controlled chaos :p ) Unfortunately, this means that I often keep notepads next to my bed or some of my ideas might end up on notes on my phone because I HAVE to get them down before I forget them.

      -.- Stupid goldfish attention span.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve seen a lot of discussion about this topic since the beginning of April, and I thought this would be a good place to share my insight. For the first draft, I am a pantser. I’ve heard so many people saying this is the “wrong” way to do it, but it’s not like our first draft is our final work. Once the first draft is finished, I will make a cohesive plan based on what I did while I was pantsing and then go back and edit. Props to the people that can storyboard their entire idea before they write it, but I am not one of those people! I just wish they would stop shaming those who don’t write like them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing, Bella! I haven’t met many pantsers in my writing experience and I always love hearing the other side of things because there is another side. 🙂 I would love to pick your brain about how your editing process goes, if you are willing to divulge your trade pantser secrets! I’m curious how much you end up keeping during your first edit. Does your plotline usually wrap itself up while pantsing or do you end up tweaking things during the editing process?

      Personally, I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to write a story. Perhaps I thought that when I was a less experienced writer, but that has more to do with inability to accept other paths to the same goal. A lot of people don’t want to accept that there are other ways of doing things and they don’t react in the most appropriate of ways, but I’m glad you spoke out! I’m glad you are reminding people that pantsers reach the same goals as plotters and, most importantly, that they can still write stories of the same quality. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would love to share a little bit about my editing process! However, the last time I edited something was around three years ago, so I may be a little rusty. I usually delete a large portion of the beginning of my first draft. I’ll usually have a pretty solid plot line by the second or third draft 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hmm… Do you think you undergo more drafts/revisions than a plotter? Or do you believe (at the end of the day) the draft/revisions are about the same (varying by project, naturally)?

          P.s. Thank you for sharing! I’m excited to talk about this!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m not sure. I think the amount/time spent on revisions depends on the writer and their story. Also, I don’t really know much about other writer’s editing processes, but it would be interesting to do some sort of poll or something.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Hmmm. A poll, eh? I suppose I could always create a discussion topic revolving around editing processes. Though, I’m not sure how to format it. I’ll have to think about it, and I’m open to suggestions if you had an idea. 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

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