Plotters, Pantsers and those who aren’t quite sure

ImageTalking to other writers, I find it amazing how differently we all practice our craft.

Some are complete “pantsers” – they fly by the seat of their pants, never knowing what will happen next until they’ve written it. To them, the journey is an adventure. They’ve no clear idea of their destination and if they go up a few blind alleys, or end up hanging over the edge and looking for new ideas, who cares?

Others are  “plotters” – that is, they work out every last detail of a story before they start their first draft. Their outline is like a sat-nav; it tells them when to turn and which route to follow and doesn’t like it if they deviate.

Both have their good points and their bad. Plotters usually need fewer drafts as the story is complete before they start, whereas pantsers may find themselves having to go back time and again, drastically altering things to accommodate new twists and turns. Plotters run the risk of getting bored with a story they know all too well while pantsers are as surprised as their readers, and kept on their toes.

I’m sort of in the middle. I tend to start off as a plotter. I know where every story thread is going to lead, what will happen to every character and how the whole thing will end. Every new project starts with a basic outline, which grows into a detailed outline (or treatment), which grows into a scene by scene breakdown. I know what happens where and when, in which order, who is involved, why and how. It allows me to be sure the story makes sense and has “legs”, it helps continuity, and I am never led into a cul-de-sac.

However, when I come to write, I fine new ideas muscling in, things that make the story stronger and need to be added, while other parts turn out to be weak and disappointing and need cutting out. Characters let me know they are not happy, and they need to be listened to. (I know. I’m a grown up with imaginary friends.)

Often the finished manuscript bears only a passing resemblance to the original outline.

My way of taking the journey is like someone using an AA route planner, but who is happy to turn off when they see a signpost that points to a better way of reaching the destination, which rarely, if ever, changes.

Plotter, pantser, or somewhere in between. I can’t see that it matters much as long as, at journey’s end, you have a story that’s satisfying, coherent and well written.


About Caitlyn Callery

I have been a writer all my life. As well as Regency Romances, which I write as Caitlyn Callery, I also write stage plays, sketches and screenplays under the name Hilary Mackelden. I also have a weekly column in the Kent and Sussex Courier, and do publicity and PR for the charity, World In Need. I live in Sussex and love, (in alphabetical order) Ashdown Forest, my family, Jesus, reading and the sea.
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8 Responses to Plotters, Pantsers and those who aren’t quite sure

  1. linuxjim says:

    Pantser, definitely a pantser. Yeah, sometimes I get a great idea and have to back up a few chapters to foreshadow it, but so what? I get into writing and something, some great new idea, pops up and I weave it into the story. And another thing about the way I write: I am an edit-as-you-go type. I never write first drafts, by the time I get to “The End” it has had enough editing to make it a second or third draft. I know some people say this is bad, but it works for me. That’s why I never enter things like NaNoWriMo … it would drive me crazy to keep writing to make the word count and leave all the errors uncorrected.

    • Caitlyn Callery says:

      I edit as I go, too. I’ve still done Nano though, and managed the word count even though I’m editing. Mind you, sleep in November is a bit hard to come by…

  2. ssnroyal says:

    I’m a pantser who does a little plotting. I’ve tried to be more organized. I have a general outline that changes with the wind, but it does keep me on track with what I have written. I know how and where I want to finish my story. I just don’t know exactly how I’m going to get there.

    • Caitlyn Callery says:

      You sound a lot like me. I used to plot everything and be very precise. I’ve become looser with experience.

  3. sayssara says:

    I’m a strong believer in plotting. I’ve learned this the hard way – too many unfinished manuscripts languishing in drawers because I didn’t know how to finish them. Now I need to have a road map before I start the journey, so I know where I’ll end up. That doesn’t mean I won’t take a slightly different route as I go, but I’ll end up in the same place.

  4. mlf1001 says:

    I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t plot out every scene, but I dod start out by knowing the high points. I generally have a page or so of plot notes.

    • Caitlyn Callery says:

      If you’re anything like me, you have bits of paper with notes on floating all over the house. 🙂

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