By: Catherine Dilts
Pantsers and Plotters often view each other with disdain. In the Plotter’s view, Pantsers are disorganized, chasing after the spark of an idea at the sacrifice of crafting a coherent story. Pantsers see the Plotter’s methods as excessively neat and controlling, at the sacrifice of releasing genuine creativity.
First, the definitions.
Pantser – A writer who has a seat-of-the-pants approach, also referred to as “organic writing.” Applied to fiction writing, this means beginning a project without an outline, perhaps with no plan at all. Starting with a blank page, you plunge in. You may have an idea of where you want to end up, but planning would ruin the journey from original inspiration to finished project.
Pitfalls of Pantsing – Writing yourself into a dead end, realizing after thousands of words that the story just isn’t going to work. Author J. S. Ellis says, “I wrote the rest of the pile of manuscripts that are gathering dust by pantsing.”
Plotter – A writer who creates an outline before beginning a fiction project. One famous plotter is thriller author Jeffery Deaver. At a talk, he described spending eight months creating an outline. A Plotter’s outline may vary from a single page to a chapter-by-chapter, or even a scene-by-scene outline.
Pitfalls of Plotting – The original spark goes stale in the process of creating structure. Sticking relentlessly to your outline might crush new ideas that could make your story better.
What is the solution to the battle between Pantsers and Plotters?
Be flexible. Some stories may benefit from the free-wheeling creative process of Pantsing. Others are better suited to Plotting. Author Janalyn Voigt applies both to her writing, using a hybrid approach. She states some projects lend themselves more to one technique or the other, and sometimes combining the two is the best solution.
An article at Jackal Editing explodes the plotting versus pantsing debate. After presenting the pros and cons of each writing method, the article ends with a sensible conclusion. “Neither process is better than the other. Instead of trying to define the perfect writing process, why don’t we just accept that everyone’s different and what works for you might not work for the person next to you?”
How do you learn which technique works best for you?
Author Henry Miller said “You have to write a million words before you find your voice as a writer.” This applies to finding your method of writing, too.
I began my writing life firmly committed to being a Pantser. Today I’m a published cozy mystery author. The opportunity came up to write for multi-author series. A detailed outline is a requirement. I found outlining grueling unhappy work at first. Now I plot heavily for all my projects. Trust me, it gets easier with practice.
Plotting is vital to creating a mystery story, in my opinion. That plot outline has to be flexible, though. In the writing process, a great plot twist may present itself. An additional red herring or suspect. You can’t surprise the reader unless you’re surprised. Don’t become trapped by your outline. Be open to revision.
Maybe instead of falling into one camp or the other, writers exist at varying points along a spectrum. Rare few people are strictly Pantsers or Plotters. You’re probably already using a combination of the two techniques. The main thing is to keep going. Write your million words.
CATHERINE DILTS prefers writing cozy mysteries and short stories surrounded by flowers on her sunny deck, but any day – and anywhere – spent writing is a good day. Author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, and the stand-alone Survive Or Die with Encircle Publications, Catherine also writes for Annie’s Publishing, contributing three books for the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library and two for the new Annie’s Museum of Mysteries series. Her short story HazMat Holiday appears in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine January/February 2022 issue. Visit her website.