pantser or plotter

in a black and white world, there are two kinds of writers: pantsers and plotters. a plotter is one who prepares plots and characters and scenes and outlines before sitting down to write a new manuscript. a pantser is one who writes by the seat of her pants, diving into the story with nary a thought to who, what, when, where, or why.

in a gray world, most writers fall somewhere in between doing a little bit of plotting before beginning and then jumping in with both feet (err, both hands on the keyboard) to see where the characters lead them. some will write a little, stop, assess, outline and write some more.

there is no right way to write, but rather a personal preference. i used to be a plotter, but after spending many years on the same manuscript, i realized i need some distance. in order to get said room, i’ve started working on something new and with that something new, i decided to write in a new way — pantser’s style.

i’m finding it quite difficult, actually. i’m getting so bogged down with the enormity of the lack of direction i have laid out for this story that i’m going way too in depth with scenes because it’s easier to move laterally instead of forward. i find it’s simpler to layer unnecessary detail after irrelevant detail than take a step in the wrong direction.

but is there really such a thing as the wrong direction?

writers, what do you do in this situation? is there a right way? a wrong way? perhaps should i stop trying to increase the word count and make a quick outline? or should i push forward and let my pants lead me? even if my pants have me doing a thriller style dance while a country twang song is on?

non-writers, what do you think you would do in this situation? perhaps your total objectivity will be of a benefit for me. or perhaps there is a mathematical formula that can solve this problem. what if i ran the quadratic formula of “the end” and then took the square root of that? will that place me somewhere in the middle of my story?

everyone, help!

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10 Responses to “pantser or plotter”

  1. Linda G. Says:

    I think you’re right about shades of gray. While I lean heavily toward being a pantser, I do pause now and then to sketch out “what if” scenarios, which I suppose could be taken as a form of plotting. Nothing too detailed–just a flashlight in the dark. Maybe something similar could work for you?

    • abby mumford Says:

      hmm, that sounds a little bit like a “choose your own adventure” type thing. I LIKE IT. granted, the entire act of writing is a choose your own adventure, but having a few “what if” scenarios lined up would make me feel like a sleuth as well as a writer.

      talk about multitasking!

      now if only i could find that spare set of double A batteries for this flashlight.

  2. kmunsey Says:

    I don’t write fiction so I am useless here. I will forever write from the seat of my pants though. I will say that I seriously doubt that the fiction I enjoy most was written in this fashion.

    • abby mumford Says:

      now there’s an interesting thought — if, at the beginning of each book, the author wrote a little “pantser” or “plotter” note so we, the audience, would know if your fast paced action scenes were well planned out in advance or if that slow, melodic passage was written on a whim.

      i guess that’s the point though, their writing techniques shouldn’t be obvious. a good writer gives us a solid story, no matter how they write.

  3. adriana Says:

    I am definitely a pantser, in everything that I write. In life in general, actually. I’m messy and disorganized and I don’t do a lot of plotting. I believe that things are going to sort themselves out as they were meant to. Sometimes that reasoning works… sometimes not so well :)

    But back to writing. I am also currently writing a lot of unnecessary boring dialogue and describing things that really nobody cares about, because I don’t know what’s supposed to happen next. But I keep thinking that sooner or later I’m going to hit something good — “I’ll know it when I see it,” in other words. Possibly I’m just deluding myself, but we’ll see. Maybe if you keep going you’ll get past the current road blocks and it’ll get easier?

    But on the other hand, why not stop and do some quick planning? It sounds like it will help you. Or at least you’ll feel better that you’ve done it, so there’ll be less anxiety as you go forward, even if you decide to ignore your outline. If you aren’t doing NaNo, it doesn’t seem worth it to just go after the word count…

    Good luck!

    • abby mumford Says:

      it’s not really relevant if i’m doing NaNo or not because, at some point, (hopefully sooner rather than later), i have to finish this draft and i’m going to be in this same position again as the word count needs to go up. and i’d prefer a long and narrow and forward moving first draft than a fat, wide, stationary draft…

      so yes, i think what i need is a quick planning session. that seems to be what works best for me, so i should embrace it!

      good luck yourself with your NaNo writings!

  4. jeanniemoon Says:

    I tend toward pantser, but if I don’t at least outline a bit, I write myself into a corner. So your shades of grey is right on for me. I think most of us glean the best from both.

  5. Kelly B Says:

    I think the best way to write is whatever way you are most comfortable with.

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