I think most people in the writing blogosphere know what a pantser and plotter are by now, but just in case you don’t, here’s a quick definition:
A “pantser” is someone who writes based on their intuition, or “flying by the seat of their pants.”
A “plotter,” however, well….plots.
That isn’t to say pantser doesn’t have a picture in their head of where the story is going, they just trust more in their innate ability to navigate the story.
I used to be one such person.
It was fun.
You discover this brave new world with characters and settings, world-building and plot. Every action is unpredictable, every environment as new to you as the characters. It’s basically like the universe is telling the story to you and it’s up to you to transcribe it for others to read.
The winds pick up and the story accelerates faster and faster until you look at the clock and discover it’s nearly 11 p.m.
You reluctantly carry yourself to bed, head buzzing impatiently for the new day to begin so you can start the whole process over.
The next day comes and you sit before your desk, ready to feel the metaphorical winds in your hair yet again, but then…..
You get stuck.
You have no idea how your MC is going to vanquish their enemy. The momentum of the story is lost. Worse than that, you know the beginning and tiny fraction of the climax but absolutely nothing in between.
You wrack your brain for a solution, but nothing comes. You doubt the validity of your own talents. Eventually, you either convince yourself the story was never worth telling in the first place, or you form the delusion you’re just “taking a break” from this story until something comes to you.
Your computer becomes a graveyard of incomplete projects.
This was my story.
It wasn’t as though I’d never tried to be a plotter. It just seemed to me as though I wasn’t cut out for it. The muse didn’t like restrictions, you know?
I didn’t need Siri to tell me to turn left at the stop sign. My heart would lead the way!
…….Except it didn’t.
Or it only lead me to a certain point and then ditched me.
I spent so many nights marinating on my affliction. I was a failed pantser and a failed plotter. So what was I to do?
After a long while, I found myself once again bitten by the writing bug. Yet again, I tried playing it by ear only to fall flat on my face for what felt like the 550th consecutive time.
And so I decided I would give plotting one more try……
Holy shit was that a good idea.
Turns out I was doing the whole thing wrong.
Rather than slowly building up to a story, planning out the characters and their arcs, I tried boiling my entire story down to a couple of sentences jotted on notebook paper. Mostly because–while I acknowledged the benefits of plotting– I simply didn’t want to do it. I was aching with anticipation to get started. I wanted to craft sentences not make a map.
Maps are boring.
Writing is fun.
What I didn’t realize is it didn’t have to be that way.
Instead of relegating my entire novel to 500 word essay, I made an outline for each. I broke them down based on what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted the characters to think and feel, and how it impacted the plot.
I was able to create cultures and histories as well as characters and plots.
I anticipated plot-holes before they happened.
I could re-work and experiment with story elements without having to completely start over from scratch because I hadn’t actually begun the writing stage yet.
Most importantly, I saved myself weeks, months, maybe even years of turmoil trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit together.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s still hard work and I do get stuck occasionally. However, it takes a lot less time to re-write a plot-map than it does to completely restructure your story over again because you decided to go another direction.
If being a panster has been working for you and you’ve had no issue completing projects, God bless you, you beautiful freak of nature.
For the rest of you that have found yourself frustrated and directionless, I whole-heartedly recommend you give plotting a serous looking into.
It’s not nearly as boring or regimental as it sounds.
I’ve actually found it more enjoyable than flying by the seat of my pants because I actually have confidence that my story is going in the direction it needs to go.
If it worked for someone like me, I’m willing to bet it will work for many of you.