The Joys of Plotting

There’s an old question in the writing community that I think most of us have been asked at least once. Plotter or Pantser? Do you already know your story when you start writing, or do you write without a plan and let the story flow naturally and see where it goes?

Pantsers do have more fun. I was a pantser originally and there’s a thrill and joy in just barreling through a story and seeing where it goes. You have a lot more opportunity to be surprised and invested in the story because you are seeing it unfold as you write. Every twist is interesting and, sure, the editing in the end is a bit crazy, but the ride is worth it.

Or it used to be. I am a plotter now. The trouble I kept finding when I was pantsing was that I had a lot of stories that never got done. I kept getting stuck and I didn’t know what I was going to do next, so I would go to another project. I had every intent of coming back, really, but I just never did. Worse, I’d come back to it later and realize how little sense previous scenes made in the context of newer ones and the work required to bring it all into something cohesive was too daunting for me to want to go back to it.

I love having a plot to work with and knowing where my stories are going. If I know what’s going on, then I never have to stop to consider what’s come before and figure out how the next sequence of events actually fits in. The plotting process, for me, is where I get the first run of the story done. It’s where I get the story figured out before the characters come to life. It’s when I get to barrel through the story and see where it goes.

Essentially, the plotting stage is pantsing for me.

I get to see where the story goes and learn about the characters as I see what their actions are. If something doesn’t make sense, I can very easily go back and see what works and what doesn’t. Because I haven’t written it proper yet, I can change the notes and it isn’t too daunting. And while I’m going, I can throw in all the specifics of a scene to include when I get around to writing it, as well as create those scenes that I know I’ll be really excited about getting to.

I also finish a lot more now that I’ve started plotting. The first draft now feels a lot more structured and I know when it’s going to end. I don’t always know how, but if I ever get lost, I have something to fall back on, and that has made all the difference. Well, for me at least.

Pantser or Plotter?

There are two types of writers, or so they say. Pantsers and plotters.

A pantser is someone who starts writing and keeps writing straight through until the end of the book, making no plans in the mean time and letting the story take them where they will take them. It’s a somewhat stressful, yet still pretty fun way of writing, hoping that you encounter no problems but if you do, you can go with your instinct and keep going as you want.

A plotter is someone who plans out their story before they sit down to paper and get writing. They come up with characters, plot and any little details they think they’re going to need while they’re writing. They know the ending already and they go at their writing without worrying about not knowing where things are going, instead running into the trouble of their story taking on a very different turn than they want to go in that isn’t a part of the plot.

I’m a plotter myself. I tend to get ideas when I’m in the midst of working on something else and jot it down when I can, then let it stew in the back of my mind until I have a little time. From there, I work out what needs to happen in the plot, some semblance of an ending and the main characters. I also get a notebook for the project so I have a space to jot down any further ideas and have a dedicated stack of paper to write on while I’m working on a project.

Still, I do like a little spontaneity when I’m writing. As such, my plots tend to consist of only about 3 pages of points I have to hit in order. I don’t plan out how they get from point to point and I don’t plan out characters outside of the main cast. Even those characters are subject to change as I’m writing, as are the plot points. I find doing this keeps things interesting enough that I don’t get bored while I’m writing.

What about you guys? Are you pantsers or plotters?