on pantsing, plotting, and why i do one over the other

there are two basic types of writers. i used to be one, and now i’m the other.

there’s the pantser–the kind who writes by the seat of their pants (surprise!), on the fly, off the cuff. riding high on a roll, going with the flow, pen to paper with words gushing out in spurts and floods. proper sentences might fall by the wayside, smothered in streams of consciousness as long as the words get out, are born, become and exist. plot holes are mere speed bumps and dead-end subplots scenic stops on the great road to typing THE END. which still has to be figured out…eventually…somehow.

then there’s the plotter-the kind who writes according to an outline, where characters, scenes, plot points and conclusion have already been decided upon, carefully sketched out, highlighted and bullet pointed. concepts such as order and structure and painstakingly detailed will be present. this is when so-and-so meet, then this happens, then they go here, meet up with this character, all to lead up to this scene which explains why so-and-so decide to go here… no lost or wandering road-trippers here, you guys.

i’m a reformed pantser. i pantsed the first drafts of DUALED, and while i loved the spontaneity of it, the sheer fun of deciding on the go what was going to happen next, i paid for the privilege during revisions. enough plot holes and messy, confused characters to make me sweat profusely and want to cry. so, ugh. i’m a total outliner now, and while it’s mostly to keep me sane while writing the next book, there’s a bunch of other factors, too. time crunch. deadlines. being officially contracted. trying to balance writing with kids and chores and life. i freak out if i start thinking about it too much, the sheer potential for being crushed. for me, having an outline keeps all that in perspective and under control. it’s the rudder and the kite line–the game plan that assures me it’s all possible.

you can outline as lightly or as detailed as you like, from keeping the very loosest of a very general idea in mind, to a written outline that reads nearly like a rough first draft. you could write a single sentence for each chapter and that would be enough. you could break down each chapter into individual scenes, then break those down even further into a descriptive sentence or two…or three, or four. you could make a visual map of your book with index cards on a bulletin board describing scenes, plot points, character motivation. plot hole or other wtf-ery? shuffle and redistribute. you could go hardcore and try the snowflake method, or a computer program like scrivener.

so, pantsing or plotting. maybe it’s not one or the other but a bit of both that gets you going. or you could start with one and end with the other. you get the idea. find what works for you, as long as it takes you from start to finish. fill me in on your method to the madness?

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8 thoughts on “on pantsing, plotting, and why i do one over the other

  1. Yep, I pantsed my way through my first three manuscripts. And it worked pretty darn well, honestly. I’m working from a very basic outline for my WIP right now, but I look at that outline as more of a…suggestion. I go off script pretty often.

    Elsie, did you want to outline FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC IN SPACE? Or are we pantsing it?

    • April, it’s neat to hear how pantsing has worked for you. I do miss being able to just dive in, but then I flash back to those weeks of massive revision panic and I can’t do it 😛 Maybe one day, sigh… Ha, FITAIS is screaming to be pantsed from start to finish, April!! We could even do it exquisite corpse style!! And because it’s going to be such a literary work, we can justify going on a writer’s retreat for it, don’t you think??

  2. Elsie, you are so right. FITAIS should not be contrained to a restrictive outline. It needs to fly free! This story is too big for your typical Beginning, Middle, Climax, End.

    And yes! A writer’s retreat. We’ll need to go somewhere inspiring. Somewhere poetic and incestual.

  3. Also, that should read constrained, not contrained, above. But then, maybe the spelling in FITAIS shouldn’t be contrained either. Our story is too big for SPELLING!

    What are the most incestual places in America? Is there a list somewhere?

    • Oh, there’s definitely a list somewhere…but do we really want to know? I think FITAIS is beyond ANY sort of revision or editing–we don’t want to restrain the genius.

  4. So true, Elsie! Let us not restrain this book’s genius by forcing it go be “good.” What a shame!

  5. […] on pantsing, plotting, and why i do one over the other (elsiechapman.com) Share this:ShareFacebookLinkedInTwitterEmailRedditDiggStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Writing and tagged book, character, creativity, Fiction, Manuscript, novel, outline, pantser, pantster, peer pressure, plotter, Romance, sketch, suspense, synopsis, Writer, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. ← Happy Father’s Day! […]

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