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Pantser or Plotter?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Dark Huntress, Jan 2, 2017.

  1. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Started out as a pantser. Went to outlining. Now I'm a hybrid. I layout how each of my plot threads is going to generally unfold in broad strokes excel, and I have a broad idea of who my characters are. Everything else I'll pants out.

    But it can swing in one direction or the other depending on the story. I tend to pants a lot more of my short stories, but fall back on outlining when I run into issues. It's easier to fix problems when you have a story map where you can see your whole story at a glance.
  2. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Sage

    I'm going to say Pantser. I start off with a great outline, a fabulous set of characters and an amazing ending. And then I start writing. Lol definitely Pantser.
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Oh don't get me wrong. I have an outline for 8 chapters that has very little detail in several chapters and nothing in chapter seven. 8 is just a rough pacing point for when I want certain big events to happen, so the setup outline stretches out to there.
  4. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    Before my WIP, I was a total pantser. None of the resulting novels were publishable. Some of the short stories were decent.

    For my novel-in-progress, I wrote an extensive outline to start. I've since completely trashed the plot from the original outline. So I don't qualify as either pantser or plotter. I'd call myself a reviser instead. I write until I reach the point where I know it's not working, and then I start over with a blank file, copying and pasting any previously written scenes if they hold up and are applicable.

    Up to now, each time I started over, I had a new path charted in my head. This last time, though, I wrote it down, mapping scenes to the plot points in a three-act structure. Some of the scenes I'd written in previous versions of the story survived and others didn't. I'll need to write some new scenes.

    My process has been a convoluted one that has taken me four years and seven major revisions to get to where I am now. I feel that this will be the last major revision. Time and the next set of beta readers will tell.

    For the sequel, I intend to start with an outline again, and hope that this time I'll be closer to something good that won't require so many revisions. I've definitely learned a great deal while working on the current novel.
  5. Xitra_Blud

    Xitra_Blud Sage

    I'm kind of a mixture of both. I find that plotting on things out on paper sucks the fun out of writing, but I don't ride by the seat of my pants either. I like to come up with the story in my head, see the scenes, and (what I've been doing more recently) order the scenes out on paper.
  6. Is anyone really a pure plotter or a pure pantser? It looks like a spectrum to me, judging by these replies.
  7. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    No one is purely one thing or another. It defies human nature.

    And yes, there's still plenty of creativity going on when writing a book from an outline. The only difference in the process is that plot is figured out before the drafting process but a lot of times that changes. I just don't understand why some say that outlining isn't an "organic" process. It doesn't matter how the book is written, it's still "organic" because it comes from your creative brain. Also, having an outline personally helps me work faster, which is important for where I am in this. I don't have time to suffer by the seat of my pants and rewrite a bunch of stuff. To each their own.
    FifthView likes this.
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I think pantsing and plotting also lend themselves towards different types of novels.

    I remember attending a booksigning where one of the authors talked about the way her story kept changing and turned into something she wasn't expecting at all. But it was a very relationship-focused story, about a woman who meets a person out of place (I want to say... unfrozen cave man kind of story), so letting that story play out naturally and without restraint felt like the right thing to do for her.

    On the other hand, JK Rowling used a chart going chapter by chapter down the left, with a column for each of the several subplots happening in the Harry Potter books. Of course, if you line up the notes that she released with the table of contents in the book, the chapter numbers are way, way off. But I think it still signifies the need to try and find some way to keep tabs on a story when it starts to grow into a huge tentacled monster of complexity.

    So to me, I wonder if the pantsing vs. outlining question might be the wrong framework. How do you keep track of a story as it grows?
    FifthView likes this.
  9. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    If historical events are playing a major role in the story, then it's easier for me to plot them out rather than mention them throughout and then realize things contradict each other, or maybe are not clear enough. It just prevents having to dedicate more time to making sure the continuity is solid.

    In my fantasy novels there are significant events that go back 10,000 years or more that would make things a jumbled mess if I just threw in bits and pieces as I went along, instead of knowing, as the writer, the reasons why they played out the way they did. I'd rather devote a lot of time before writing anything to be sure it all makes sense.
    Michael K. Eidson likes this.
  10. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

    Hi Chessie,

    I beg to disagree. I'm the purest of pantsters. I can't stick to a plot for love nor money. I don't know how a novels going to end before I end it. Hell I don't know how a paragraphs going to end!

    It leaves me with massive problems. I have something over two hundred incomplete novels on my machine because I lost interest and / or wrote myself into a corner. I can't write sequels and series because I never wrote a novel with one in mind. Likewise I can't stick to one genre - because I can only write what I'm inspired to write at the time. And my one true attempt at plotting was an absolute disaster. Not because I couldn't plot. I could - and it was in my humble opinion, brilliant. But when I tried to write to the plot, every page I wrote I went so far off course that I had to completely rewrite the plot!

    Someone said it was a choice as to which approach you take. Maybe it is for many. For me it's not. I simply cannot write to a plot. I write according to how the story unfolds as I write it.

    But this has advantages too. It means that when I write, I'm completely lost in the story. I write fast and furiously, completely in love with it. I have written novels in a month before now. And I have twenty seven books out now. So I'm not complaining about it - even if some days I want to find my muse / monkey on my back - and strangle him!

    Cheers, Greg.
    Michael K. Eidson likes this.
  11. Tim Reed

    Tim Reed Dreamer

    I would say a bit of both for me.

    I plot out all of my novels, albeit in a fashion that allows me a bit of flexibility (I am not an obsessive, rigid plotter, as some of the best story threads can sometimes spring out of nowhere!). However, with my published novella, Spider from the Well, I didn't plot at all. All I had in my head was that it would be a vanity project and my ode to Hope Hodgson, and I just wrote 40K from there...and it ended up being one of my best pieces of fiction. Typical!
  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Pantsing is another word for discovery writing, and outlining is a type of planning.

    I've been thinking that "plotter" might be the wrong word, because for me it's a planning vs non-planning approach in the purest forms. And at least conceptually, one can "outline" a set of character interactions (how their personalities rub the wrong way, for instance, or their general roles in the story), so it's not just about plotting.

    I think one discovery writing approach is to simply start with a main character or two (if a villain is in mind, or if it's going to be a romance story, for instance) and a general idea of story and setting, begin writing, and see what happens. This is mostly a "pure" discovery process, and I believe some writers do this—successfully, even. If I ever gave over fully to a discovery writing experiment, that's the one I'd choose. I'm curious, and it sounds fun. (And scary, heh.)

    On the other side of the spectrum is the planner who has a very detailed plot, story, set of characters, and built or borrowed world.

    But in between these two extremes....I remember one of Brandon Sanderson's videotaped lectures in which he, well-known as an obsessive outline writer, said he often uses discovery writing to figure out his characters and then writes out the outline. He then mentions Dan Wells I think, who'll write some dialogs or somesuch with his characters to "discover" who they are before beginning an outline, and so I think even Sanderson's "discovery writing" is really pre-writing unless he writes scenes he knows he'll already need for his book that will also help to reveal to him who his characters are.

    But this memory of that video lecture and this thread have led me to consider the possibility that the greatest difference between writers might simply be in which areas they leave for "discovery" and which they plan out.

    Hence, why I think a consideration of "discovery v. planning" might be better than only a consideration of "pantsing a plot v. outlining a plot."

    For instance, before beginning my WIP, I needed to know the magic system's broad features and I wanted to know some of the specific manifestations of magical use my primary characters would use. But some of the minor uses of magic, the little daily uses and manifestations, I've left off planning. I can discover those as I work my way through the story. Another person might want to know the whole range of possible magical use—and what is not possible—in more detail before writing.

    One might carefully plan plot points (waypoint writer) but without planning out the finer details of how characters move from one to the next. Another might plan the plot development in finer detail—three or five chapters at a time, without writing a complete outline in detail for the whole book.

    I may have general ideas about some side characters or the extras populating a milieu but leave off specifics until they appear in the story—even if I do plot out with some finer detail what I plan to accomplish in the next few chapters.

    And so forth.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2017
    Heliotrope likes this.
  13. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    It does get easier and you do get faster over time. I can write a novel in a month but it's not my best work. Two months is perfect for me though to get it from concept to revised. It used to take me much longer but the more time I've spent writing daily, the more I've refined my process.

    (totally hear you on writing ourselves into corners. Sometimes, it's inevitable)
    psychotick likes this.
  14. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

    Hi Chessie,

    Yeah the writing yourself into a corner is one of my favourite writing pass times! And something I suspect is peculiar to pantsters. But sometimes I think the way out is a fresh set of eyes.

    There's a well known example - not completely sure if it's true. But the cartoonist creators of superman Shuster and Siegel initially serialised the cartoon as a strip in the daily papers. And one day the paper decided they wanted to get rid of them and hire a new cartoonist. Naturally they didn't like this. So they wrote their finaly cartoon strip and had superman somehow weakened and bound to a set of tracks as the speeding locomotive was coming. There was no way out for him. And when the new cartoonist came on board he found himself stumped. Superman was about to die and he couldn't get him out of it. Which meant the end of superman, the cartoon and his job. He explained this to the paper and was dismissed and the original writers rehired. And their first strip upon being rehired you ask? "With one mighty effort superman tore the bindings apart!!!"

    Cheers, Greg.
  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I know I have a seriously bad habit of "thinking myself into a corner," although I'm not a pantser. The tendency is so bad, an entire project can derail long before the first word is written as I muse over how I can possibly move forward.

    Lately I'm more willing to jettison an "unworkable" or troublesome idea, but I still trip myself up sometimes. It's not so much that I jettison the idea willfully but more like enough time passes that some new idea or direction takes hold on its own and pushes that other idea to the side.
  16. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Haha!! Crazy how this happens! I never read much Superman but did read a schload of BATMAN (the only superhero in my heart).

    Actually, I've been trying to fix a continuity error for the past hour. I think I've finally figured it out but it's going to take fixing shit in 3 other chapters, too. Ugh.
  17. So as I've read this thread I'm getting the district impression that panting and plotting is a binary choice. It isn't. It's a spectrum. Most people fit within the spectrum. As for me I plot stories but discover characters.
    Heliotrope likes this.
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