Plotting and Pantsing

Have you ever started working on a piece and not realized really what’s actually going to happen? Well, I have, and let me tell you, it feels kind of weird.

This past month I read in a Writer’s Digest magazine article that there are generally two types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters are people that plan their novels out meticulously before they even write a word down. Pantsers are the exact opposite – they pretty much run with an idea and see where it takes them.

Now, I’m not trying to say that I’m completely a plotter (I’d actually consider myself some form of a hybrid “plantster”), but I definitely have some structure whenever I start a new project. Usually, what I have written down originally ends up changing or being scrapped entirely for something different, but I’ve learned over the years I’ve been writing that I need a bit of structure in the beginning to get me started.

With that in mind, let me inform you about what’s currently going on with me and my latest writing project. I began working on this particular piece back in August of last year after spending some time with certain characters in a novella I was writing just prior to that. At the time I started writing, I had three characters in mind: the main character, her best friend, and her love interest. I knew their names, brief ideas of what they looked like, and that was it. Well, other than one small plot idea I really wanted to slide into the novel somewhere.

I hadn’t yet found this article on plotter and pantsers yet, and if you go back and read a blog post I wrote partially about this project in September, you’ll see just how much of a panic I was in stressing about my dilemma.

Since that moment of panic, I’ve written just under 30 000 words and as of this very moment, I still don’t really know what I’m exactly writing about. Yes, of course I know more now than when I started working on this last summer, but that’s all come from what I’ve learned about my characters, not what I’ve pre-planned. The difference here is that I’m no longer stressed out about it.

What I’ve found the most interesting about this little experiment is that I now know I can let my characters drive the story, as opposed to making my characters try and follow something I’ve already decided should happen. Now don’t get me wrong, all of my characters in the past have told me what to do at some point in the novel writing. What I mean to say is that I’ve never written something without a specific plot point in mind and let my characters create those plot elements all on their own.

So what can you take from this? Well I know that for me, trying the pantsing style of writing has actually turned out to be quite refreshing and not nearly as stressful as I thought it would be. If I were you and I was stuck with writer’s block, or just looking to get a different part of your creative brain going, I’d try switching things up a bit. If you’re a plotter, try pantsing. Yes, it might be more stressful than you’re used to, but maybe it will bring you a new perspective on your characters like I found. If you’re a pantser, try plotting. Who knows? Maybe some rigid structure might help you finish off a scene you’ve been slaving away over for the past few days. After all, what’s the worst thing that can happen?

To everyone who reads this and tries something new, I’d love to hear about your experiences. And as always, keep writing, everyone!

Until next time.

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5 thoughts on “Plotting and Pantsing

  1. Writing characters that are well rounded and, as a direct consequence, believable, is something that absolutely every writer needs to learn the hard way. Just like how looking at a picture of someone only tells you a small fraction of who that person really is. Even an album of pictures of a person at various points in their life would never give you the information necessary to know them well. The only way to know a person is to spend time with them, and share the moment.

    I am a firm believer in the idea that a person is the result of their past, and that one’s past directly influences who they are in the future. Investigating psychology, mental trauma, and the effects it has on a person and their actions can create a plethura of options where you can take your stories. If you are more pantser than plotter, its a tool that could cause your stories to spiral to destinations you never could have thought of no matter how much work you put into the outline.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this. Just what I needed. I’m on my second book, started it early this year and still can’t figure out where it’s going. I have the theme, the message and the purpose and the readers in mind, it’s around 20 thousand words this time and still lost. Glad to read your post 🙂

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