To Pants or To Plot, That is the Question. Or is it?

by Jennifer Ray

Writers tend to view themselves as plotters or pantsers. This individual view has been known to cause heated arguments among writing groups. Trust me, no writing group is safe from this passionate debate.

A plotter is characterized as needing a plan when they write. They use diagrams, outlines, whiteboards, sticky notes, character charts, and more. Plotters need to understand where their story is starting and ending, along with everything in between before they start writing. They need order. Not knowing the entirety of their story ahead of time can create quite the penchant for angst for the plotter. Let’s leave the angst in the storylines, please.

A pantser is characterized as someone who sits at their computer and writes by the seat of their pants. They may have a title or an overarching idea for a book based on one or two elements of their potential story. They may know the beginning or a single scene in the middle that intrigues them. The pantser rarely knows the end of their book. They want the characters to tell them the end of the book. A pantser has some basic ideas about who their characters are or what their story is about. They need a challenge in order to create. Pantsers leave the angst for when they are editing.

But, I believe a majority of us are both. Now before you stop reading and leave in a huff, hear me out. Isn’t there usually more than one way to do tasks? For an example, I’ll use baking. You have two recipes for a chocolate cake, the ingredients are identical, but the directions are different. Both make a magical, rich, decadent, moist, chocolate cake. You can, technically, combine the two different directions and create a third way to make that cake. You can combine all of the dry ingredients like Recipe A, but then use Recipe B’s technique for mixing the dry and wet ingredients together. Okay, I know I already lost you the minute I said chocolate cake, so let me show you how we can be both. My hope is to show you where your strengths are and that you will be able to embrace using both techniques and become a stronger writer.

This chart is non-scientific and made up completely by me. It’s a fun little exercise in writing styles.

PLOTTER VS PANSTER_crop

Pick either A or B from each row, which ever best describes you. Tally up how many A’s you have and how many B’s you have. That will give you a non-scientific plotter to pantser percentage.

I am 30% plotter (I had 3 A’s) and 70% pantser (I had 7 B’s). Even though I thoroughly enjoy list making, character charts, and hate doing rewrites, I do love to see where the story goes without any preconceived ideas to limit myself. My method, though, really encompasses both. I get an idea and let it stew in my head and then I fast draft. After I pants my first draft, I break out the character charts, worksheets, and beat sheets. I plot turning points and dark moments and work on fleshing out my characters. After I plot everything, I add to my manuscript. This combination works best for me!

Let me know your results and if these results surprised you.

9 comments on “To Pants or To Plot, That is the Question. Or is it?

    1. Thanks Jennifer! That’s awesome that it worked out to what you already do. And, I agree, writing does evolve. We should take the test again in a few years to see if we have changed!

  1. Great article. Totally agree that everyone is at least a little of both. I am 50/50. 🙂 I had always considered myself a pantser and wrote three books on the fly so to speak, and tried something very different in attempts to win JuNoWriMo this year. It worked. I took a combination of what I felt safe plotting that didn’t tamper my creativity, but gave me direction and did character sketches (But my character sketches only answered things about backstory, things they wanted at the present time, and goals for their life). Even considering I did absolutely no editing on the first draft, it was much more polished with a solid story. It worked for me. So, now I call myself a plotser. hehe Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Love the plotser! My character sketches are all backstory too. I have to write the story to know where those characters end up. I tried plotting my WIP, but I quickly realized that wouldn’t work for me once my antagonist changed to another character in the story. He just wouldn’t listen to me, but I think my story is the better for it!

  2. Great post. I am 50/50. I used to consider myself a pantser, having written three books on the fly. But for JuNoWriMo this year in an attempt to win, I did a little more prep work, and it worked. I did just enough plotting that gave me direction without stifling my creativity and did character sketches where I wrote my backstory and jotted down the what the characters wanted, goals, and likes/dislikes at the story start. Even considering I did absolutely no editing during the draft, I had a much more polished concept and story. Plus, it helped me store a lot of information to do book 2 without having to search through the details on Book 1. So much easier. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Great post. I am 50/50. I used to consider myself a pantser, having written three books on the fly. But for JuNoWriMo this year in an attempt to win, I did a little more prep work, and it worked. I did just enough plotting that gave me direction without stifling my creativity and did character sketches where I wrote my backstory and jotted down the what the characters wanted, goals, and likes/dislikes at the story start. Even considering I did absolutely no editing during the draft, I had a much more polished concept and story. Plus, it helped me store a lot of information to do book 2 without having to search through the details on Book 1. So much easier. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this.

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