Plotting or Pantsing?

This seems to be a subject that I keep coming across at the moment. People have asked me if I am a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’. What does this mean? The question is really, “Do you plot out your novels before you start writing? Or do you write organically?” (Flying by the seat of your pants.)

Plotting tool: Sticky notes

Technically, I am first a plotter, as I like to kind of know what pathway my writing is walking down. Great at character profiling before I even start writing a novel. But then I find that my characters start taking on a life of their own, and then I become a ‘pantser’.

I think that writing organically can take you places that you never would have plotted before. Once you start researching locations, careers of your characters, and all sorts of other symbology in relation to your work in progress, the story starts to evolve. So, to start me off, I’m definitely a plotter. It’s as if I need some sort of map or some form of direction to get me going.

When I first started writing, I used to plot out every stage. Each chapter had its own plotlines that I had to follow. Each character has their objectives that are carefully laid in order to eventually meet at the height of the book. But I found that having a set plot regime hindered my creativity a lot. I would get to the point where I already knew what was going to happen, and therefore I was no longer writing the piece of work for myself, but I was writing it down, just to get it down. But since I already knew everything in the storyline, it was no longer exciting me, or surprising me.

I can’t do that now. Instinctively, I know that I can have a very loose plot. And in that loose plot, I have to manoeuvre my characters to the peak of the plot. Sometimes I know how this is going to happen… other times I don’t. And this is all part of the fun.

I primarily write for myself. I write myself stories that I love, and I am my own audience. Granted, there are other people out there who read my work as well, but I know that as long as I am happy with the process and the finished product – then that’s the only thing that matters.

So here are two core questions I’m putting out there into the Interweb ether:

  1. How do you do it? Plotting or Pantsing?
  2. Who do you write for?

I think that these are questions we all need to eventually have an answer for.

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29 thoughts on “Plotting or Pantsing?”

  1. I used to be a complete pantser, then I learned more about outlining. Now, I follow a combination of the two. I have a rough outline that marks out the places where I know mini-climaxes need to happen, important plot points, etc, and then I completely wing it from there. Things often change, sometimes the entire story itself changes, during the process of drafting. But I do find it helps to have a reminder of things like “page 75, you need a mini-climax here” etc.

    I write mostly for myself, although my latest WIP is more for everyone else. I’m not sure why! But I get excited about sharing it with my crit partners, and I seem to be writing for the fun of them enjoying it. Odd! :)

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    1. Ah, another like-minded hybrid, like myself :-)
      To me, plans are living documents anyway, so they are bound to change as you write. I like having a good character base, and loose plot lines to help guide me. The rest of it… totally pantsing it :-)

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      1. Exactly. Plus, I think if you’re too rigid in your plans, it takes all the fun out of it. I like my stories to surprise me as I go along. I’ll know vaguely how my story will end, but I like to let it happen naturally. It makes it fun that way, and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see what will happen too. It wouldn’t be much fun otherwise!

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      2. Oh, I couldn’t agree more! I’m not going to type out a story, when I already know every single thing there is to know about it. I absolutely love it when my characters do some unexpected, and take me for a ride. That’s part of what makes it entertaining and engaging for the writer.

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      3. Totally! What motivation would there be to keep at it, otherwise? I so often find that as my characters and I get to know each other better, they do things far different to what I’d intended them to. More often than not, their ideas leave mine in the dust :D

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      4. Haha – Characters are funny things, aren’t they?

        Despite the fact that they are of our own creation – here they are running away on us.
        The thing that I love the most about them is that they become fictional friends, and we watch and learn from them as they embark and complete their journeys. (I always get terribly upset when I finish a book, becuase I feel a great sense of loss.)

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      5. Oh man, I know! I’m still missing my characters from my last project. I think about them all the time, like old friends I’m missing.

        It is a very schizophrenic thing. You create these people and then they develop (hopefully) into real people with their own ideas and suddenly, you’re not the boss anymore. That’s rather cool, but also intensely frustrating sometimes!

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      6. Lol Wen! Quite right. It is a very schizophrenic tendency. But it’s just the way it goes. As writers, we create, we give them life, then we eventually let go. Jeepers – it’s all very sad, isn’t it! But so worth it at the same time :-)

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  2. I’m in the middle as well – used to be pure pantser, but I now know the benefits of having a rough outline. I used to think that plotting meant you set everything in stone. Once I got rid of that misconception and realized that a plan can be a fluid thing that grows and evolves with the characters/story then I had a much easier time with it all.

    I love to see where the story goes, I love to be surprised! Much like you, and Wen :-)

    As for who I write for? Me, initially, and then friends, family, anyone, everyone.

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  3. lol you ladies must write nice stuff. I frequently kill characters off, so can’t miss them! lol I almost can’t bring myself to write book 3 of my trilogy because I know who dies…

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  4. LOL, Cassie! I make a point of killing of a main character in most of my stories, hehe. In the last book, I even killed the main character about six times. :D It’s love — tough love, but love!

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  5. Oh goodness! lol

    I have been late to dinner at my Mum’s before. I text her, ‘gonna be late, I HAVE to finish this murder before dinner’. Thankfully she knows me well enough to know it would just be writing! I’m way to smart to text about actual murder :-P LOL

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      1. Whoa – only just managed to catch up with this now!
        This conversation reminds me of a quote that I read once, “The good thing about writing is that you can murder someone and get away with it.” (I think that’s how it went anyway!)

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      2. Oh so true :) I’ve often wondered exactly how much trouble I’m going to get in if the police ever have cause to check my search history. “Ways to murder someone quickly,” “Dying by knife wound,” “How to burn down a house,” are all recent searches. I’m harmless. I swear! Unless you’re one of my characters, then all bets are off.

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      3. Exactly! You should have seen my doctor’s face the day I came in for an appointment and said, “This might be an unusual question, but I was wondering if you could tell me how long it would take someone to die if you were to cut through their brachial artery, and how much blood would they need to lose before it was too late to revive them?”

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  6. I don’t know how writers did it before the ‘net! Google is my best friend :-) Research can be so fun! But yeah, hopefully no-one is watching our search history ;-)

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    1. Oh my god, Wen – you didn’t!!!
      I’m very lucky in that respect, as my mother is a doctor. And believe me – she gets some very strange questions fired at her about viruses and all sorts. I haven’t yet asked her how to kill someone though!
      Quite right Cassie – the Net is an awesome tool. It makes life so much easier, especially for reserach on the go. I still have all my old encyclopaedias at home though. I love them.

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  7. Oh, I did :d And he looked at me and blinked. Then I explained that I was writing a book. He didn’t look any less confused, and said, “But, I thought you were an artist?”

    I explained that yes, I was and am, but I’m also writing a book.

    Eventually, he did tell me. In fact, he got so into the idea he gave me better murder ideas than I’d ever dream up myself. LOL.

    You are so lucky, a mother who is also a doctor? That is extreme good fortune right there!

    Google is just wonderful. I’ve found so many things on there, from the road rules in Idaho, to what type of material they use to make their roads. I suppose I should be glad that I couldn’t find details on the best methods for murder, but I did find out how to pick the lock on both handcuffs and padlocks. *sigh* would be so much easier if I just had a cat-burglar for a mother :)

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    1. Hahaha!
      My birth mother is a lot more trouble (with a capital T) … her motto is, “Be good. Or be good at it.” Yeah, I grew up hearing that every time I talked to her. But the mother who raised me… well, she’s a different kettle of fish. She works for Otago University in the Medical School there, and is trying to find a cure for cancer. Noble cause. She’s qualified in everything… but she’s now solely a researcher I think.

      But she’s very handy with the medical questions… and usually if she can’t answer them, she’ll flick me the contact details of one of her colleagues who can. Maybe I should take up writing medical thrillers more often. She also has access to this brilliant site for academics… called JSTOR… and I whenever I’m in Dunedin, I deliberately go to her office just to access the JSTOR journals for research. And EVERYTHING is on there. I love it.
      Maybe I should just get her to give me her log in details or something, and then I could access it from home… (Hmmmm… food for thoughts) would certainly be a lot cheaper than flying down.

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  8. I wish it was possible for everyone to get into those research sites! Wouldn’t we have fun? Although, given that much information, I suspect I’d be one of those who imagines they have every disease they read about!

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