On Pantsing and Plotting

I should be writing my conference paper right now, but since I’m sick of looking at it – and since I’ve already eaten WAY too much of the chocolate I scored for my birthday – I thought I’d procrastinate with a blog post instead. Picking a topic at random from my stuff-to-blog-about-one-day list, I ended up with… *drumroll* Pantsers versus Plotters!

Most writers probably know what these things mean, but for anyone who doesn’t, “pantsing” refers to writing a story off the top of your head, with no idea where it will end up, while “plotting” refers to planning out the whole story before you start writing it; perhaps with detailed character descriptions or an outline of what will happen over the course of the book.

Mentioning the plotters versus pantsers debate is often a good way to stir up writers. The pantsers feel that having an outline stifles their creativity and that knowing where the story will go takes all the fun out of writing it. Plotters, on the other hand, tend to flounder if they don’t have a plan to fall back on when they get stuck, and prefer to have more control over how the story plays out.

I’ve discovered that I’m a plotter. The first serious writing project I worked on was Exile, a high fantasy trilogy. I had the idea for the main character one day and  started writing the first book, making it up as I went along. While I did my writing diploma, I bumbled my way through the story, writing the first six chapters in roughly chronological order. Once I hit the start of chapter seven, I realised that I didn’t know where the main character would go next… And then I got stuck. I made fairly weak attempts at planning her next move, and orchestrated increasingly far-fetched scenarios to steer the story on, and then I started wondering if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. At that point, the story more or less died; discouraged by what I saw as an epic failure, I didn’t write at all for about a year.

One day I had the idea for a short dark fantasy story after stumbling across some random song. Once I had written it, I realised that it had the potential to be so much more. But this time, instead of just diving straight into writing, I began to write an outline for the novella that would eventually become my current work in progress; Dark and Silent Waters. Sure, the outline has since been tweaked to within an inch of its life, but knowing roughly where I wanted the story to go, how the characters would develop and the atmosphere and themes that would run through the story have helped me to stay focused on writing it. With an outline, the goal of completing a first draft seems more manageable. I’ve always had the outline to act as scaffolding and give me ideas for what I can do next when I hit a wall. And, if I couldn’t write the next chronological chapter, I was able to jump ahead and write a different chapter; I figured that it didn’t matter where the words went, as long as I was putting them down. I know some writers can and prefer to write in a linear fashion, but I just can’t work like that; I tend to bounce around within the story like a demented yo-yo on a sugar-high.

Right now I have my prologue, epilogue and a few random chapters in between completed. My word count is at just over 20,000 words out of an estimated 80,000. I’ve also recently started working on an outline for my Exile trilogy, in the hopes that I’ll be able to go back to it once I’ve finished my novella and actually make some progress with it.

What about other writers out there? Are you pantsers or plotters or somewhere in between?

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About Rebecca J Fleming

Some random geek on the Internet who likes playing with coloured things. Also, I like to put Easter eggs in the microwave.
This entry was posted in DASW, Exile, Fiction, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to On Pantsing and Plotting

  1. I start out pantsing and then I plot… And even then, my plots are loose and I pants from key scene to key scene… then, when I’m done, I re-plot and pants the rewrite…

  2. I’m a “tweener,” I guess. I have a rudimentary plot in mind, and a rough outline. Very rough. I do have character sketches in Word files. I know some people get fancy with scene cards, etc., or use software, but for me, it’s just the Word files.

    Then we have a go at it, and change things up as needed. That’s where my “pantsing” comes in.

    I have begun a couple of novels after writing a short story first. Expanding on them has brought me my two current WIPs: one with 93,000 words or so (finished first draft); and the other with a few more words. Not yet finished. Rewriting and cutting down just a tad.

    It’s fun to allow for flexibility, but to have a general guide in mind.

    Thanks for visiting my blog earlier.

  3. Pen says:

    I would like to inform you that the following post has been explicitly copied from your blog onto another site, potentially without your consent and/or knowledge: On Pantsing and Plotting.

    The offending url is: http://schoolofcreativewriting.com/?author=402

    It is believed that the author of this site is attempting to gain monetarily from stealing others’ work and posting it along with false Gravatar information.

  4. @Pen: Thank you for informing me. I sent the owners of the site an email telling them that they did not have permission to post my content and asking them to remove it. At the moment their whole site appears to be down, so I don’t know if they have taken down my post or not (I never received a reply email, but I wasn’t really expecting to). Hopefully if/when their site is restored, my post won’t be there.

    • Pen says:

      A few days ago, all the posts were taken down. The next day, the entire site was taken down. I have a feeling it might be due to some unwelcome legal attention to the site; but I don’t know if the admin was forced to take it down or if he did so to avoid even more unwelcome attention.

      I’d keep an eye on it, just to make sure it doesn’t pop up again.

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