Plotting v. Pantsing

Most people will tell you there’s no right way to write, so long as it produces a quality piece of work. There are, however, different ways to write.

So, let’s discuss the benefits* of being a plotter versus a pantser.

For those who are not familiar with these terms : A Plotter is someone who outlines—or plots—their stories before writing them. A pantser is someone who flies by the seat of their pants and writes a story with little to no outlining.

I’ve written books both as a plotter and a pantser. My verdict on which is better? I’ll tell you after going through some benefits of both.

Plotting Benefits

plotoutlining.pngMost plot kinks are worked out early on. When you outline, you “see” the book in a very basic form. It’s like looking at a blueprint of a house. You can see ahead of time if the bedroom is the size of a closet, or if the front door opens into a bathroom instead of a foyer or living room. And at this early stage, you can change things around to make sure all is as it should be before spending weeks/months writing the first draft.

Writing a book often means writing backwards. (What the heck does that mean?!) It doesn’t literally mean writing backwards. It means that as you develop your plot, you’ll gain wonderful inspiration along the way and create new plot twists and turns, which means you’ll then need to go back to an earlier time in the book to put in clues, characters, and objects to support these twists and turns.

For example, does your second plot point make use of a secret passageway under Grandpa’s antique desk? Then you had better make mention of that desk earlier in the book. And when you are a plotter, it’s easier to implement these small but important details before getting too bogged down in your writing.

Pantsing Benefits

IMG_7459.JPGFlying by the seat of your pants is simply whimsical! I love how characters move organically when there’s little to no preconceived notion of where they’re going. I especially love how dialogue often comes out naturally, as though the author is sitting in the corner, watching a real life scene unfold. One reason authors like pantsing is because it’s as close as we can get to reading our book as an unsuspecting reader.

As an author, I’d give just about anything to read my books as someone else. (i.e. NOT as the author who knows every nuanced detail of all the characters, the setting, and the plot.)  That is the conundrum of being an author… we write and fall in love with our characters and stories, yet we can never fully appreciate them as a reader.

Pantsing gives us a glimpse at what it’s like to read our book for the first time; following characters, and not knowing what’s around the next corner.

So, what’s my own personal verdict on what’s better? Before I answer, let me preface by saying that the product of both my plotting and pantsing are equally satisfying.

But although the end results are the same, I give the edge to plotting, simply because, from my experience, pantsing required a hell of a lot more editing. And this is coming from someone who genuinely loves editing. I really do. But my pantsing novel took two entire rewrites, plus multiple other rounds of editing to get it to a publishable form. My plotted books took much, much less editing, and, therefore, much less time, even when counting for the initial time it takes to put together a full outline.

So, I consider myself a plotter. How about you?


*I’m only discussing the benefits of these writing methods, because if you ask a writer to discuss the drawbacks of writing, he/she is likely to write an entire book on that subject alone!

4 Comments on “Plotting v. Pantsing”

  1. As I’m an aspiring author, I’ve made many schoolboy errors along the way. It’s quite heartening to know there’s a lot of pantsing going on (enough for it to have its own terminology, no less!), as I thought I’d simply not prepared enough! For me there came a time, after writing for a good couple of months or so, where I stood back and thought I wasn’t approaching the task in a professional way. Since then I worked up quite a detailed plot and stuck to that structure. I find its working much better that way, and I like the feeling of making obvious progress when a target point of my story-flow gets hit. It has to be said though, the ‘fun’ level doesn’t seem as high as when I first started out. I still wing my characters conversations. I found it gives them a more natural edge, less scripted and obvious to the reader (although for now the only reader is me!).
    Writing for a hobby – take the pantsing option. Writing for the dream of becoming an established author – plotting makes more sense. Great post Rachel, really enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pantsing does indeed require more editing. I had to write my current book three times to fix all the boo-boos! But I’m finding that a little pantsing can be beneficial when learning about a character. I’m writing a secondary character’s backstory right now and not following a particular outline. Hearing her voice in dialogue is important in that regard. Once this character’s voice is more solid, I’ll know how she fits in the story and how much of the backstory to use. That said, I am mapping out an outline of sorts, determined to be more organized, but I wish I could say it’s easy for me. I’m a pantser by nature.


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