Are you a plotter or a pantster?
If you’ve spent any serious amount of time around a group of writers this question has likely come up.
Last week Michelle Wolfson posed this question on the Wolfson LiteraryAgency Blog and received a flurry of responses for writers in both camps.
Seven years ago when I first started writing fiction again, I was a hardcore pantster. The idea of creating an elaborate outline and character sketches took the fun out of writing for me. After all, one of the things I find most exciting is when my characters take over the story. A character says something I didn’t expect or I’m surprised to discover the antagonist’s underlying motive.
Trouble is, when you discover on page 250 that Margot is seeking revenge for an injustice dealt to her family when she was little girl, it means going back through all 250 pages at some point to reveal hints of her motivation to the reader.
Can it be done? Surely. Lots of writers prefer to work this way. But if you’re a
lazy efficient writer, like me, the extra steps don’t sit quite as well.
Then there is the primary reason I realized that being a pantster isn’t for me. Without a road map, I would inevitably write myself into a little corner from which I found it hard to escape. I’d stop writing and sit my work aside while I tried to figure out where to go next. Problem is, what I intended to be a few days often turned into months (and in some cases years).
After my third work in progress got dumped in my digital storage locker, I knew it was time to do something different. So I gave plotting a try. Nothing elaborate at first. I just outlined a scene. It worked well. Next time I outlined a chapter. Eventually I outlined the remainder of the story. And guess what? I finished it.
Plotting proved to be a resounding success. Yet, when I started my very next project, I went back to my old pantster ways. I started the story off without my trusty road map and wrote furiously until I hit a dead end. I was stuck again. But this time I knew exactly what to do. I pulled out a notebook and pen and started to outline the scene, the chapter, the remainder of the book. I finished that one, too.
This led to my final conclusion. I love the thrill of pantsting, but require the structure of plotting. A hybrid writing approach works best for me.
I create a loose outline that provides me with direction as I write. Yet, I give myself permission to veer off course to wherever the characters take me. And if we find ourselves in a ditch, as the pilot, it’s my job to get out pen and paper and get us back on track. That way everyone stays happy.
What is your approach to writing? Are you a plotter or a pantster?