Plotter or Pantser?

Writers tend to fall into one of two categories. The first, “plotters,” are those who plan out everything for their stories ahead of time. They outline, write backstories, and try to figure out the details of the whole story before they write a word. The second category, “pantsers,” are those who write “by the seat of their pants.” They don’t plan anything ahead of time; rather, they discover the story as they write it.

The way the writing community talks about it, you’re supposed to fit into either of these categories. But I always seem to find myself somewhere in the middle. I’ve found that everyone seems to be different in how they go about planning or not planning their book, and I’ve also found that I seem to change up my strategy with each thing I write.

When I first started writing, I was a complete pantser. I spent about three years writing my first book, from my senior year of high school to my sophomore year of college. As I wrote the book, I knew how I wanted it to end, and, scene by scene, I very slowly worked my way through it. Since I wrote the whole thing before taking a single fiction class, it is not a very good book. The book is not completely terrible though, and the people who read it told me they really liked my characters, but it can definitely be a lot better. I do have ideas on how to completely revamp it, though, and plan to tackle it again one day.

After I started taking fiction classes I began working on a second book, and it was then that I discovered my method of being a piece by piece plotter. This method worked for both this second novel and Somewhere Only We Know. With both of these books, I wrote a little bit to get going in the book, and then I would stop and plot out the next few scenes. I would go write those, and then would stop again and plot out a few more scenes. This method is a combination of being both a plotter and a pantser because I was only plotting a little bit at a time. I wasn’t thinking too much about the overarching story, just writing it by the seat of my pants. It’s like E. L. Doctorow’s quote: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

When I started my new work in progress (WIP), I wrote a little bit of it, just like how I began my second and third books, but then I felt really stuck. My WIP is a dystopian story, and so a lot of world-building is involved. I knew who my characters were and what the primary conflict was, but a lot of the details were fuzzy to me. I decided to read K.M. Weiland’s books Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel and their corresponding workbooks. Weiland does an amazing job explaining story structure and how she goes about outlining, and I highly recommend them. I wrote pages and pages of notes for my WIP. I didn’t go quite as in depth as Weiland, but I did much more pre-plotting than I usually do.

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K. M. Weiland’s text and workbooks

However, instead of feeling ready to get writing after I wrote an outline, I simply felt overwhelmed by all of those pages and pages of notes. I attended a retreat in the fall, and the author who read the beginning of my WIP really enjoyed it. So I felt reassured that I was on the right track with the book, but I still wasn’t sure how to keep going.

I did write a little more in the book after the retreat, but I’ve been mostly stalled on this WIP. So last week, since it was on sale, I decided to download software that so many writers swear by—Scrivener. I’m still just getting my feet wet in it, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to organize my outlining notes in Scrivener in a way that works better for me and then will be able to really get going on my WIP.

I love the concept for this story and can’t wait to share it with you. I just am still figuring out if plotting or pantsing, or a combination, is going to work best for me. It will take trial and error for everyone, and for every story you write, to find what works best for you.

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Are you a plotter or a pantser?

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