Writing Craft 101: Pantsers and Plotters

Pantsers and Plotters: This refers to your particular style, whether you prefer to write “by the seat of your pants,” making things up as you go along (pantser), or whether you prefer to create a detailed outline of your characters and plot arc before ever beginning to write the story itself (plotter).

There are those who will advocate for one method above the other, insisting that one or the other is the better way to write, but in truth, there are pros and cons to both methods.

Pantsers are the people who make up the story as they go along. They start with an idea for a plot or a character and the story evolves around that idea. Pantsers tend to have more freedom because their story evolves as they go along, leaving room for plot twists and added characters or character deaths or all kinds of things they didn’t see coming when they first had the idea.

Pantsers listen to the story and follow it where it wants to go. These are the people who talk about characters making decisions on their own and doing things the author didn’t expect them to do.

The downside of this is that it typically takes more revision and editing because there are often inconsistencies that come along with making a story up as you go along.

Pantsers also have a greater risk of writer’s block, because if they don’t know where the story is going to end up, they don’t know what has to happen along the way.

Plotters, on the other hand, plan out in great detail the story and character arcs, making extensive outlines to plan where the story will go and what will happen.

Plotters tend to be more detail-oriented and structured. They like to know as much about the story before they start writing the actual scenes as possible. The more information they can put into the outline, the better. They tend to write very fast, because they know exactly what each scene should contain and what they want to accomplish.

They know where the lines are for each act, and how they’re going to get from here to there.

Plotting takes a lot of time, but when plotters actually get to the writing itself, they tend to work fast, because they don’t have to work out any kinks or plot holes.

This helps to minimize the risk of plot holes and tangents, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room for the story to evolve. Thus, if a plot detour does present itself, it’s much harder to work into the story, because the outline changes and there may be things that need to be rewritten in order to make the new thread work.

There is no right or wrong way to write. More than anything, it comes down to a choice based on personality and preference. Most writers naturally lean toward one style over the other. If you strongly prefer one, don’t try to force yourself to write the other way because someone has told you it’s better.

That said, it’s still a good idea to try something new and stretch your writing abilities. If you’re naturally a pantser, try writing using an outline, even if it’s a basic one. You may find it helps you to fill in details and avoid plot holes.

If you’re naturally inclined to plot everything out beforehand, try writing something completely off the cuff, and just allow yourself to follow the story.

Incorporating styles and disciplines that aren’t your natural tendencies will help you stretch your writing craft and ultimately make you a better writer. You may adopt those styles, or you may decide they don’t work for you, and either is fine. But having tried them will give you a better idea of what does and doesn’t work for you.

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