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Pantser vs. Planner

Updated: Aug 30, 2020

Hi readers! If you’re new to the writing community, you might not have heard the terms “Pantser and Planner.” In the writing world, these are commonly used terms to describe the way writers plan (or don’t plan) their books. According to The Magic Violinist on The Write Practice, “…a plotter is someone who plans out their novel before they write it. A pantser is someone who, “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don’t plan out anything, or plan very little. Some people, like me, call themselves “plantsers,” which means they’re in a little of both. In reality, most people are plantsers, but some tend to lean heavily to one side.” I agree with The Magic Violinist about being a Plantser, but I lean towards the Pantser side more. I find this ironic because in all other aspects of my life I plan everything as much as possible. But, with my writing, I don’t like feeling trapped or being forced to stick to a story.

I think it’s important to know where you fall on the Pantser vs. Planner scale, so you can identify which methods work best for you while writing your book. If you’re the type of writer who wants to plot the entire book, chapter by chapter, create character bios with extensive backstory material that will never be used, then go ahead. On the other hand, if the thought of creating an outline and planning your novel before writing it gives you extreme anxiety (it’s not just me, right?), then don’t force yourself into a writing situation that makes you uncomfortable.

I have one published book, which will be released on August 10th, so I am not an expert, but I do have a bit of writing experience. I recognize that knowledge only comes with time and, of course, writing more books. While writing my debut psychological thriller book, The Long Shadow on the Stage, the most difficult part was when I completed the first draft and had barely written 50,000 words. The story wasn’t fully fleshed out and the characters weren’t as developed as I would have liked. Part of this is simply the nature of writing a first draft, but some of it could have been prevented if I had created an outline before beginning the first draft.

As a self-proclaimed Plantser, I think it’s essential to have a solid idea of where your story is going, at the bare minimum. If you only have a story idea and you start writing a book, at some point you will probably end up feeling lost about what should happen next, find inconsistencies within the plot and story, become stuck because you haven’t planned the scenes, or maybe not know how to end the book because you weren’t sure what you were working towards or when the book should be finished.

However, it may comfort Pantsers to know that Stephen King doesn’t carefully write pages of fully developed outlines before diving into his next book. In his writing craft book On Writing, King says, “I am, after all, not just the novel’s creator but its first reader. And if I’m not able to guess with any accuracy how the damned thing is going to turn out, even with my inside knowledge of coming events, I can be pretty sure of keeping the reader in a state of page-turning anxiety. And why worry about the ending anyway? Why be such a control freak? Sooner or later every story comes out somewhere.”

I thoroughly enjoy King’s explanation about not being a control freak regarding the story. Sometimes the best stories occur when you write freely without fear, anxiety, or anything else holding you back. Besides, who would deign to disagree with one of the world’s most successful authors?

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