Plotting vs. Pantsing: Find Your Writing Style

plotting vs. pantsing

Plotting vs. Pantsing for Authors

Welcome, scribes of suspense and weavers of wickedness! Today, let’s dissect the age-old debate in the writing community: plotting vs. pantsing. As an author of the grisly and macabre, I promise no writers will be harmed in the dissection process. 

In the land of fiction, be it literary fiction or thrillers, we are all creators, deciding how to mold our stories and craft the fates of our characters. Whether you’ve just started writing your first novel or want to refine your writing process, grab a stiff drink, sit back, and let’s dive into the bloody heart of the matter. To plot or not to plot…

Plotting: Pros and Cons

Plotting is like laying out a body for autopsy. You know all the organs, their placement, and the major plot points of their fatal disease. You have a clear idea of where the story ends before you even start your writing. The plot is your roadmap, detailing the journey from the first line of your book and the inciting incident in Act One through to the very end, detailing the main character’s goal and the turning points along the way.

Plotting involves creating a detailed outline, perhaps using beat sheets or index cards to organize your scenes. You set your story’s main plot, establish major characters, and flesh out character development in great detail. You know every twist and turn, every surprise revelation, every hidden motive leading to specific events.

However, the downside is a bit like knowing the end of a murder mystery or serial killer thriller. You may lose interest because you know whodunit. It could also limit your flexibility as you feel compelled to adhere to your detailed outline. On the other hand, if you feel your story veering off course, you’ve got a trusty roadmap to guide it back in the right direction.

Pantsing: Pros and Cons

Now, onto pantsing, the maverick of the novel writing process. Pantsers are those adventurous souls who, instead of plotting, choose to fly by the seat of their pants. Armed with nothing but a vague idea, maybe a notion about the main character or a hint of a plot, they begin their writing and let the story unfold organically.

This method, also known as discovery writing, can be exhilarating. You get to explore the story events as they happen, watching the character development unfold with each scene, sometimes surprised by the specific events taking place. You experience the thrill of not knowing how the story ends or the next big plot point.

But beware, fellow writers. Pantsing can leave you waist-deep in plot holes or wandering off on tangents. You could end up with a character who was meant to be a mild-mannered florist turning into a flamethrower-wielding vigilante. Exciting? Yes. But tricky to fit into a cozy mystery.

The Hybrid Method

Many writers, myself included, often use a hybrid method, a Frankenstein’s monster of a writing process, combining elements of both plotting and pantsing. You may understand the major plot points and a clear picture of the main character’s goal, but how you get from A to B is left to the moment of writing. You may know your story’s beginning and end, but the journey between is a thrilling ride of discovery.

Heavy Plotter, Light Pantser, and Vice Versa

In the writing community, we find different degrees of plotters and pantsers. Some like to plot in great detail, knowing every beat of the main plot and subplots and having character profiles for each of the major characters, and even minor ones. These folks are the Extreme Plotters.

Then we have the Relaxed Plotters, who have a clear picture of the story’s big picture and the main character’s arc but let the individual scenes play out more organically.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Controlled Pantsers. They begin writing a novel with some degree of plotting, maybe a rough outline of the three acts or a few major plot points in mind. But they leave ample room for spontaneity, character growth, and plot twists that arise in the process.

And then, we have the Pure Pantsers, who dive into the deep end with nothing more than a vague idea and let the currents of creativity take them where they may.

Plotting and Pantsing: Unveiling Your Writing Style

Whether you’re a Stephen King-esque pantser or a J.K. Rowling-level plotter, the goal is to create stories that captivate, thrill, and engage. The choice between plotting and pantsing is not a question of right or wrong but a matter of personal writing style.

Experiment with these different methods until you find the one that suits you best. Whether you plot every detail or prefer discovery writing, your writing process should facilitate your creativity, not hinder it. It’s your path to the finish line of the first draft and onto the revision stage, where your story truly comes alive. You’re one step closer to being able to retire with your writing.

Remember, we write because we love to create. Don’t let the plotting vs. pantser debate stifle your creativity. As long as you’re writing and your story moves forward, you’re heading in the right direction. Happy writing, and may your words flow as freely as the (fictional) blood in your serial killer novels.

Writing by the Seat of Your Pants FAQs

I’m new to writing. How do I begin writing my first novel?

New writers often start writing by brainstorming a main character or a plot idea. Whether you choose to plot everything first or just write and see where the story takes you depends on your personal writing style.

How do I develop a main character in my novel if I’m pantsing?

Developing a main character while pantsing is an exciting journey. You start writing with a basic idea of their personality and traits, then allow your plot and interactions with peripheral characters to mold them into fuller, richer personalities.

How can I stick to my plot when I keep getting new ideas while writing?

This is a common challenge when you’re pantsing your first draft. You can choose to incorporate these new ideas into your plot or jot them down for potential use in future stories or novels.

How can I ensure my other characters have depth in my pantser novel?

While pantsing, the depth of other characters can emerge naturally from their interactions with the main character and the plot. Keep their actions and dialogues consistent, and let their character profiles evolve.

I prefer pantsing but sometimes lose track of my plot. What should I do?

Pantsing allows for creative freedom but can lead to a disorganized plot. Try to regularly review your story and realign the plot points to keep the story coherent.

How do I approach character motivations while pantsing?

Start writing with a general notion of your main character’s motivations. As the plot evolves, so might these motivations. It’s a fluid process that gives your character depth and makes your story more engaging.

How do I balance between my main character and other characters in my plot?

Both your main character and other characters should serve the plot. The main character drives the story, but those extra characters provide different perspectives, offer conflict, and aid in plot progression.

How can I improve my writing skills as a pantser?

Reading widely, especially within your preferred genre, can greatly improve your writing. You can learn from other writers’ techniques and styles. Additionally, practice writing regularly to hone your skills.

How can I integrate a subplot when pantsing?

A subplot can emerge naturally when you’re pantsing. It could be a secondary conflict or a romantic interest for your main character. Just ensure it complements the main plot.

What’s the importance of describing the other characters in my pantser novel?

Descriptions give depth to all of your characters, making them feel real to readers. While pantsing, weave descriptions into your narrative as the characters interact with the plot and the main character.

How much should I read if I prefer pantsing?

Reading is always beneficial for writers. It broadens your understanding of narrative structure, plot progression, and character development. This can help you when you start writing, even if you’re pantsing.

How can I stay motivated to complete my first pantser draft?

Remember, a first draft is all about getting the story out, not perfection. If you’re losing momentum, try skipping to a part of the plot that excites you and write that.

How can pantsing affect the point of view in my novel?

Pantsing allows for flexibility in exploring different points of view. You can experiment and see what best serves your plot and characters. As you continue writing your novel or short story, you’ll find out what suits you most as a writer.

I’ve just finished pantsing my first draft. What’s next?

Congrats on completing your first draft! Now, review your plot for any inconsistencies or loose ends, enhance your character profiles, and revise your story for better flow and structure.

Is it possible to combine the two methods, pantsing and plotting?

Yes, many writers use a hybrid approach. They may start with a general plot outline and let the details emerge naturally as they write. This provides a balance between structure and creative freedom.

How can I build a world in my novel while pantsing?

World-building can develop organically when pantsing. You can start with a basic setting and add details as your plot and characters interact with their environment.*

I have an idea for a short story. Should I plot it or pant it?

Both methods can work for short stories. If you have a clear plot in mind, plotting can help. If not, pantsing can allow the story to take its own path.

Can pantsing help me with writing a great story?

Absolutely. Pantsing can lead to unexpected plot twists and character developments that might not have happened with a strict outline. This can create a unique and engaging story.

How can pantsing my novel help me better understand my characters?

Pantsing allows your characters to develop naturally. As they face challenges in the plot, their reactions can reveal their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations, giving you a better understanding of them.

Is it normal to revise the plot multiple times when pantsing a novel?

Yes, it’s completely normal. Pantsing often involves revising the plot as the story evolves. It’s part of the creative process and helps ensure your story is cohesive and engaging.

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