Guest blogger Jeannine McAllister on Pantsers vs Plotters.
Not long ago, a colleague wrote about how lost she was in her story. I asked her if she was a pantser or a plotter. She said she was a pantser.
Pantsers are writers who sit down and create a story by the ‘seat of their pants.’ They can write linearly from beginning to end, figuring things out along the way. Being able to write whatever comes to mind without any guide is a skill. They construct the book in their mind and just type. The problem with pantsers is they generally spend a lot of time in editing after the first draft. Also, it is not unusual for them to loss their path along the way to the end of the book because there is no road map.
Plotters plan the book from beginning to the end before they start writing. It is said that prior to computers most writing was done in chunks. Plotting allows you to work non-linear in chunks. Plotters need for how much planning they do varies; from a hand written note on a napkin, to a notebook full of handwritten scenes, to a thirty to fifty, maybe a hundred, page typed outline. Generally, they know something about each chapter, sometimes each scene, before they start writing. Plus, they have done character and location sketches. Plotters may spend three or more months up to years developing their plot outline. That’s a problem with plotters. They can spend so much time plotting, getting every detail perfect, that it ends up never getting finished, or they end up with enough material for a ten volume series before they start writing.
While plotters spend a lot of time before they actually start writing, the advance time often decreases the time they spend editing in the end. Pantsers don’t spend much time, if any, in the beginning; they spend it at the end editing.
If I sound biased towards plotting it’s because I hate editing, but I’m also envious of pantsers.
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Dixon says: I like Jeannine's analysis of the difference between planners and pantsers. However, I suspect that the majority of writers are found somewhere between those two extremes. I'm sure there are very few writers who sit down without an idea what they're going to create. For an extreme planner, I'm reminded of Margaret Mitchell, who plotted out Gone With The Wind to the smallest detail. Then, first of all, she wrote the last chapter. Many writers do that, to make sure they'll have a satisfying conclusion. Then Ms Mitchell wrote the next to last chapter. And then the one before that. And the chapter before that. She wrote the entire saga backwards. Now that's a dedicated planner.
In my novels, I have a very good idea of what will happen in the first 3-4 chapters, and a vague concept of how my story will end. Then I "write in the headlights." With each page that I write, I can see a bit further up the road. When I wrote The Assassins Club, I had a moment of clarity about two-thirds of the way through, when I could see exactly how the final two chapters would be choreographed. The final version of those pages varied little from that original vision. Thank you, Voices In My Head.