Plotting vs. Pantsing

InkyGirl Comics

Generally, writers fall into two categories: plotting or pantsing.

Plotters are organized. They have their entire novel plotted out on a beautiful, detailed outline. They probably have character sketches for both main and secondary characters. They have lore built up, maps drawn and they know exactly how the hero is going to get from point A to point B to point C.

While, pantsers, on the other hand, have no formula. As the name suggests, they write by the seat of their pants with no general direction they follow. Words just flow like a river, spilling into a fully-formed novel. Sometimes a writer who is pantsing their novel has a general idea of what they want to happen in their head, but that idea never finds it way into a well-formed outline. It’ s just an idea in a brain.

Of course, ask any writer and they’ll tell you that there is no right way to write. Plotting, pantsing – the end result is the same: a novel.

Generally, I’m a pantser. I have a very general idea in my head, either about the characters, about the plot or a little bit of both, but I rarely outline a novel. When the idea for Mouse Games came to me, however, I was so excited about it, that I outlined. Not necessarily because I wanted to, but because I wanted to work on the novel right away. But, NaNoWriMo doesn’t start until Nov. 1, so rules say I can’t write any of the novel. I can outline, but I can’t actually work on writing out the story.

Wanting to work on Mouse Games in some fashion, I outlined. Chapters are neatly ordered with notes as to what needs to happen in each for the plot to move along. I created character sketches and a mock cover. Mostly, though, I outlined, because I didn’t want to lose the idea for the novel between August and November. Outlining me about a weekend to complete. But when I got the idea to write Party Games, I did not outline.

Though I’m equally excited about both projects, I really dislike outlining (though my OCD nature would suggest otherwise). I wrote out a page of ideas for scenes I’d like to see in Party Games and created a mock cover, but that’s all I’ve done. I realize that writing, for me, is a lot less stressful when I have a well written outline.

But outlining is just boring, and I’d rather be writing. Even if I’m just staring at a blank word document, waiting for the perfect opening sentence to come tumbling from my brain, I’d rather not be outlining.

So why do I hate outlining? It’s not only boring for me, but if I spend too much time on an outline, I start to over think the novel too much. When I finally do start writing, I begin to edit as I go, which stalls the writing process, because I begin to question my own ability. But plotting has its place in my world, and NaNoWriMo is it. Between school, knitting, home life and NaNo, I know that plotting Mouse Games is going to work in my favor when I’m trying hit that 50K word goal.

I don’t have a one month or bust deadline for Party Favors, which is why I chose to pants this novel, rather than plot…even if I am at a bit of an impasse when it comes to actually writing out the scenes that are in my head.

I think Suzan said it best the other day in an email, “Pantotters!”

I’m a little bit of both, but mostly I pants. What type of writer are you?

6 responses

  1. Definitely more of a pantster than a plotter. I have a semi-plot right now but honestly, I don’t know where I want to take the novel. I have four or fice character names down. And I have the location down… But where I want to go with the story? I’m still unsure. Sigh. HURRY UP, NANOWRIMO!

    September 25, 2010 at 10:57 pm

  2. Suzan

    Alice, I ❤ you for being more of a pantser like me. All those outliners we hang out with make me nervous…. 😛

    September 25, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    • Well you know, we purple people need to stick together!

      September 25, 2010 at 11:13 pm

  3. Classifications for writers are always a bit of a giggle. Just like personality classifications, they’re just a nod in the direction of infinite complexity. I’m a plotter, I suppose, but absolutely not an outliner. If anything, I’m more like a jigsaw puzzle maker, or a patchwork maker. At first, I know as much about my characters as you might after you’ve had a couple of friendly conversations with someone you’re just becoming familiar with. Then I begin to see the structure of their lives and what their stories are. All that gradually fits into the original story idea, which may have been no more than one line and more of an abstraction than a concept. I go back and forth between plot and characterization, making random notes, imagining possible scenes and conversations, possible conflicts and their possible resolutions… When I can see a structure for the story, as all this material accumulates, I begin shuffling the scenes and coversations around into something like a logical order. Finally, I have something that looks a bit like an outine, but without the rigid formality. So, when it’s time to start writing, (if it’s for NaNo – otherwise I’ve been filling out the notes as I go) it’s all there, waiting to develop in an organic way. The characters take control, unexpected plot points invent themselves, and — I have another Winner!

    September 26, 2010 at 8:44 am

    • So do you play around with the story board method? It’s a method that intrigues me, but I don’t think I’d do much writing if I did it. I’d have it all up on a story board and be like, “I did it. Novel complete.” And then I’d move on to the next idea….lol

      September 26, 2010 at 10:12 am

      • Catana

        Wouldn’t have any idea what to do with a story board or any other formal method. Even at the point where my notes have begun to look like an outline, it’s pretty loose. For NaNo, I keep the notes brief — don’t want to write stuff that I’d be tempted to include in my 50,000. If it isn’t for NaNo, I’ll write as much of a scene or dialog as comes to me at the moment, but won’t try to develop it further until I’m actually ready to start writing. For non-NaNo stories, I’ve found that some of the more extended notes wind up being discarded as the stories develops. Basically, I like to know where I’m going, but don’t mind if the path branches off in unexpected ways.

        September 26, 2010 at 10:46 am

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