Writers LOVE this question: are you a plotter or a pantser? They talk about it all the time. They talk about it more than they actually write! 😉
In case you don’t know, this question is in regards to how you go about creating your novel. Do you form the whole plot ahead of time, following an outline of pre-planned scenes from beginning to end? (That is, do you “plot?”) Or do you wing it, forging onward with maybe a loose idea of where to go but mostly improvising the journey? (That is, do you “write by the seat of your pants?” Shortened to “pantsing.”)
That great term “pantsing” has become pretty normalized among writers, but to the first-time hearer it’s probably not intuitive. The casual eavesdropper probably thinks “pantsers” just go around pulling down trousers. Fortunately that is not the case!
(Well, maybe some do. We’re a weird bunch.)
Both plotting and pantsing are valid methods with their own benefits. Which one you use depends on your personality and what kind of story you’re telling. Here are the pros for each:
~ PLOTTING ~
– The obvious pro: It’s organized!
– This style works best for, unsurprisingly, plot-driven stories where many things happen.
– Less danger of writing yourself into a hole. You probably won’t need to backtrack and fix problems or inconsistencies, because you’ll have spotted them in advance.
– This makes editing easier because major hack-and-slash revisions of large-scale story elements will not be needed as much. Phew!
– Writing moves along quicker. You know exactly what happens in what scene, so you don’t have to stop and think about it.
– Less chance of meandering aimlessly, or getting side-tracked by random ideas that don’t contribute to HEY LOOK SHINY…
~ PANTSING ~
– The obvious pro: It’s more organic. Also “pants” is a funny word. Hehe.
– This style works best for character-driven stories, where what happens is less important than who it’s happening to and how they feel about it.
– Spontaneity is fun! Your imagination is given free reign to play and explore. Who knows what your subconscious will find that your conscious didn’t expect?
– You’re able to get to know your characters more naturally, letting them build themselves as they go. They can change and respond to situations in an authentic way, not because they were pre-programmed to.
– You don’t have to worry about where it’s going before you start; you can just start. Got a cool premise but don’t know where to take it? You don’t have to know! This is great for people who’ve always wanted to write a novel but are intimidated by the pressure to figure it all out before they begin.
So what do I use? Well…
My first novel, a character-driven one, was almost exclusively pantsed. Many scenes were developed just by opening up a Word document and writing what poured through me, sometimes even using experiences from that day to inspire the scene. (One crucial, character-defining moment was written based on a simple visual I’d witnessed just prior to opening my laptop!) A slew of scattered scenes eventually came together into a cohesive whole, and it was made better by the fact that I didn’t overthink and overplan. I trusted my instinct and the book discovered itself in a way I couldn’t have anticipated.
My second novel (current WIP) has been extensively plotted. There’s no way I could have pantsed this; it’s too dang complicated! Yet even with the elaborate plot, I left room for a little improv. I didn’t outline in detail, just kept major landmarks in mind (or outlined chunk by chunk). I set my characters off on their course and let surprises come in the in-between. Only in the last quarter of the book did I start meticulously planning each little thing, because I need to make sure everything falls into place for the finale.
Essentially, I like both. And I would urge all writers to not stick to purely one or the other. You might lose a bit of magic if you over-plot, and you can find yourself in holes if you over-pants. So mix it up, and apply where needed. 🙂
But of course, we all have our preferences. What method has worked best for you?