Plotting vs Pantsing: Why stick to only one?

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

There are countless blog posts arguing the pros and cons, hundreds of authors who’ve staunchly declared for a side.

Why must it be one or the other?

I freely admit: I pantsed the first draft of Above Ground. I knew where I wanted the story to go, but each week when I sat to write the next chapter, a part of me didn’t know what would happen.

Yes, that’s how I ended up with a (pointless) scene where a werepenguin eats a cheese puff.

That first draft was a badly structured nightmare of inconsistencies and pointless scenes. I had to write an outline from scratch and perform drastic surgery that took as long as writing the draft in the first place. While doing so I vowed: never again.

I vowed that I would be Team Plotter, all the way.

But now that I’m busy hammering out the outline of a second novel, I’ve come to miss the liberty of pantsing. The looseness of spirit. The “I’ll worry about this not making sense later”.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m enjoying outlining. It has saved me from writing (and deleting) pointless scenes. It has made me think about world building, character motivation, and theme – all of which I often neglect.

But writing the outline first is a subtle kind of torture. The closer the outline gets to where I want it to be, the harder it is to resist the temptation to just go for it and write. The only thing holding me back is the knowledge that I haven’t quite figured out the story yet.

But what’s the point in picking sides?

We are writers; we challenge ourselves. We take utterly scary things like zombies and turn them into short stories!

Plotting? Pantsing? I refuse to fit one box, to pick one side.

While I’m plotting Novel #2, I’m going to start pantsing Novel #3, and who knows — maybe I’ll write Novel #4 backwards whilst asleep, hanging upside down from a eucalyptus tree.

What about you?

14 thoughts on “Plotting vs Pantsing: Why stick to only one?

  1. I’m honestly somewhere in the middle. I typically write an outline, but I let it evolve as I’m writing. I’m not too beholden to my outline: I created it; it doesn’t create me.

    • I guess I get caught up in the technicalities of an outline – making sure I build to a climax, that things are foreshadowed, etc. The good thing is that I don’t then need to rewrite much… As if I let loose I tend to just wander off and invent new things that then need to be threaded properly into the story!

  2. So well said! I have been everywhere and I can sincerely say that I can’t write without doing both. When I started out, it was all pantsing. Lightbulb idea and run with it. That was amazingly fun, my happiest years of writing, but it also led to the spark running out rather quickly. I’d be cornered by bad decisions I’d made earlier in the story and feel demotivated.

    So I started plotting. I love outlining, love making everything fit together. And I love that I’m actually pantsing when I plot. I really only know that there is a point A and point B, and I might have some A.1, A.6 etc. scenes scattered in between. The rest, I make it up as I go along with the outline.

    Then I write, and if sticking to the outline is getting me blocked, I’m happy to let my characters run wild for a bit. They’ll show me what’s right and what’s not. It’s been an awesome ride so far :)

    • Yes that’s how i feel! A bit of both is the way forward. I do love outlining and hate feeling trapped when I pants myself into a corner (lol).

  3. I think that an outline is an invaluable tool to make sure you don’t suffer from Above Ground version 1. However, to be completely fair you also allowed us (by that I mean Me and Lyn) to influence what you were writing probably more than we should have. That is the pitfall of blog style writing. It can’t have much of an outline, it meanders, and its readers don’t care because they are reading one chapter a month vs. a whole novel in a week.

    For a full blown novel or a series I suspect an outline is pretty much a requirement. That’s doesn’t mean it should cramp your creativity. It just gives you direction and mile stones. You haven’t completed the outline yet but want to write? So go write. Just don’t write any scenes or chapters outside of what you have already outlined. This should allow you to keep structure and minimize inconsistencies while allowing you to explore your creative possibilities (I’m looking at you George R.R. Martin). Balance, it’s a good thing.

    The werepenguin scene was hilarious and will always be a treasured memory of mine. Even if it had absolutely no business being in that story I loved you for including it in the blog version. :)

    • The werepenguin will forever remain a fond memory of mine, too. :-D

      Needless to say the story wouldn’t have existed without you guys so don’t ever say I let you contribute too much!

  4. Personally, I go with broad outlines and a good general sense of what each section contains. When I start filling in sections, I do it scene by scene, always a scene or two ahead with some specifics, and generally with a good sense of what general events have to happen before the chapter ends.

    I do leave a lot of details open, even many major ones, and I fill those in only when necessary. For example, the current storyline in Legion of Nothing is essentially a mystery, and one third in, I am only now introducing the suspects–and only because there’s no choice.

    On the other hand, I’ve known who did it and why since before I started writing it.

    • General big events and whodunits I don’t find hard to keep track of sans outline – what the outline does for me is help flesh out the world building abd ensure consistency in the small details.

  5. I definitely fall into the pantsing category with my writing. I usually have some vague outline in my mind about where I want the story to go – and sometimes the story turns out exactly how I expected, sometimes not.

    Though I just write for fun, without any specific intentions or expectations. I imagine it must be very hard to craft an accessible, well-written novel that is free of plot inconsistencies – especially without a formal outline.

    I remember reading somewhere that the author Anthony Burgess was quoted as saying “Overplanning is the burden of creativity” – but he also added that he wrote outlines as well, but just didn’t try to get too bogged down by them. I guess it’s all about finding some kind of healthy balance between the 2 options.

    Good luck with your new novel!

  6. I’m a pantser, true and true. I keep trying to write outlines but they never work and I never follow them. I usually go into the story with a clear sense of how the plot moves from Point A (beginning) to Point B (end), but beyond that anything’s game. Part of that reason is I always come up with better ideas as I’m writing the story. Novels usually take a while to write, and in that time elements tend to pan out differently than how I plan. Or they even change depending on my mood.

  7. I wrote my first… serial thingamajig in full pantser mode. I just went on day after day thinking about what to write next, using to push me forward and with only the barest idea of things that I wanted to happen. Madness but fun, specially for my first effort. And it did produce some unexpected situations, indeed.

    Now, especially after reading Rachel Aaron’s “2k to 10k” ( I also think that a bit of each is the way to go. All I have to do is stop procrastinating and do some planning for my next projects…

    • I’ve never heard of 2k to 10k – would you recommend it or is the advice a bit generic?

      And I haven’t heard of either, will have to check it out!

      • Sorry, A.M., I forgot to check this space (entirely my fault).

        Regarding 2K to 10K: I did find it useful, and I guess that I will possibly find it even more useful after I have made use of her advice, since so far I have just ruminated on it. As usual, Aaron talks about the things that work for her, but then my attitude towards writing advice is to follow the ones that look like they’ll work for me. It doesn’t look to me like the usual collection of nice-sounding thoughts about writing; it gets to the point, and gives you concrete, tried-out pieces of advice.

        As to, the website has a charge right now, but old users like myself get it for free (I contribute whenever I can, however, as most people do). What 750 Words has done for me is creating the habit of writing every day: right now I’ve spent a long time not writing fiction but fill-ins, but still I sit down and get my entry every day. If not for 750 Words, I would never have managed to finish my serial. Heck, I would never have managed to start writing, period.

  8. Pingback: My Top 9 Writing Posts | A.M. Harte

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