Writing Posts

Pantser vs. Plotter: Living In-Between

If you’re a writer, these terms have a lot of meaning to you. If you’re not, these terms could still have a lot of meaning to you. They are pretty simple, definition wise. A pantser is someone who likes to live on the edge, to “wing it,” to figure things out as they go. A plotter who someone who likes to know things in advance, who likes to plan and outline, before getting started.

Being the natural weirdo that I am, of course, I’m both.


I love organization. On my computer, I have folders dedicated to each project that I’m writing and then, within those folders, numerous other meticulously-organized sub-folders: drafts, “completed works” (if there is such a thing), character profiles, outlines, notes, queries, the whole nine yards. I actually love outlines. I have an outline for every book I’ve written, which is usually some mixture including a chronological listing of major plot points, character tidbits, important notes, epiphanies during writing that I add in as I go so I don’t forget and spoilers abound. No one ever sees these outlines, but they are terribly helpful for me. The first book I wrote, the outline was almost a dozen pages in Word and so detailed, it could have been the book itself. I lived and breathed off that outline. I couldn’t imagine ever writing something without that guide to fall back on when I was stuck.

Until I did.

Crazier still, I enjoyed it.

Granted, I didn’t completely make the switch from plotter to pantser. On this latest novel, I started making an outline, like usual. I had the basic idea in my head: struggling old writer whose never been published gets approached by magical wizard-esqe being and becomes a self-aware fictional character in a story filled with tropes, with the goal of beating the trope to make a unique story being the only way Artemis (the writer) can escape from being stuck in that fictional world forever. I love this idea. I was so excited to write it, back before I started, yet I kept putting it off because I didn’t actually want to outline it. I didn’t want to figure out all the minor details or the other characters or the world. I just wanted to get started and see where it took me, but the plotter in me prevented that from happening. So, like I said, I started making a rough outline. After 30 minutes of meager details being recorded, I finally shut up the plotter side of me and gave into the pantser side.

I wrote the first chapter that day and haven’t looked back since.

As I’ve continued, I’ve adopted a mixture of pantsing and plotting that I think I’ll keep around for a while. I’ve removed the pressure of having a really detailed outline before I write a word–like my first book did–and instead just start with a basic outline; an overview of the most important plot points and anything extra is gold, but not required. And then I write and fill in the outline as I go, with new details that I’ve discovered, major trends or themes I don’t want to forget or scenes that I want to set up for later books.

Image result for Pantser
I pick both because I’m a hipster like that. Mwhahaha.

It’s rather fun, doing it this way, despite often setting off alarm bells for my OCD-esqe lifestyle. It’s been particularly enjoyable lately, as I enter into the second half of the book, where there are more elements unknown than known. I know how the book is going to end (and oh how readers are going to hate me for it) and I figured out what events need to happen between what I’ve already written and that ending, but I have no idea what order, no specifics on how it happens, no idea how my characters will respond or what surprises they’ll throw my way. The days leading up to this unknown next scene, I dragged in my writing. I dreaded figuring out what was going to happen next, despite my excitement at letting the story and my characters take the wheel.

Two days ago, I figured it out and it’s awesome (hint: it includes magical trees, rogue goblins and a freakin’ badass Spriggan). It’s so much better than anything I could have planned, so much darker than I originally thought this novel was going to be and the way things fell into place was truly magical, like everything I had written so far was written precisely to set up this scene that I had never thought about until I was actually writing it.

So if you ask me if I’m a pantser or a plotter (cough: I’m looking at you, NaNoWriMo), I’m sorry to say I can’t claim one side, but inhabit a little bit of both. And I think I’m a better writer for it.



11 thoughts on “Pantser vs. Plotter: Living In-Between”

  1. What if you’re a plotter at life and a pantser at writing? 😀
    I look at writing as more of a puzzle. I have a basic idea of what the story is, and let it develop, organically. Somehow,, whatever I write is a puzzle piece, and there’s a hole it fits into. And the puzzle isn’t confined to a square or a rectangle.

  2. You’re a plotser like me! ❤ So I gather that you were initially a plotter?

    I began as a pantser: I had something that seemed like a great idea, and I ran with it… until I got lost… and then I stopped writing because all hope was lost. All that's left is a collection of words taking up a few kilobytes of my hardrive. The dates are all that is sentimental about them..!

    But I believe plotsing is the best way to go about writing a book: it gives you enough room to breathe, as opposed to "I MUST stick with this outline" which gives great cause for frustration — and personally, I think it takes the joy out of writing. I outlined a story from beginning to end, and by the time I was happy with the outline, well, I didn't care to write the story anymore! I followed the Snowflake method for that one. Plotsing only goes about 3-4 steps into the Snowflake method, as opposed to the whole nine! Or whatever it is, I forget now.

    I actually like plotting by bullet points — and as long as I have a clear idea of the ending of the story, I am comfortable with this method. I'll "bullet point" a couple chapters ahead of time as I go. It gives me enough structure, yet enough wiggle room should my characters decide to change the plot on me.

    But anyways, so awesome that the inspiration hit you eventually! Being a plotser has both joys from the writing methods, without (all of) the negatives!

    1. …..
      I didn’t know plotser was a thing but I love it. I also love how you did sort of the opposite of what I did. I totally agree that this method of taking the best aspects of both lifestyles (in a sense) is a really great way to set yourself up for maximum creativity, which I hope you’ve been able to reach recently, especially balancing all of your story ideas! 😀

      1. Thank you! Unfortunately, I’m not one of those writers that can simultaneously work on 3 different projects at once. Nor am I a fast writer -.- But, as I’m sure you’re most familiar with, I love spending time with each of my characters and going on this journey with them! Fortunately, the well of creativity doesn’t run dry for us, so we press on.

        And yes, plotsing can be unique to every writer, but it’s generally a mash up of the two basic methods. And it’s the best!

      2. I struggle with working on multiple projects at once, too! Like, I can edit one book while being in the middle of writing a new one, but I don’t think I can write two brand new stories at the same time. I haven’t really tried, so I dunno! But spending time with the characters and learning all sorts of fun surprises about them is fantastic and I love it.

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