When I first started rebooting my website, I realized pretty quickly that none of my old posts are optimized for SEO or readability. Additionally, some of them are not as comprehensive as I feel like they could be. Rather than secretly update the old posts and hope no one notices, I decided to rewrite them from scratch. You can find a link to the original version of this post at the bottom of the page.
So…Obviously I’ve addressed this subject before or I wouldn’t have put a disclaimer up there. I want to try and go over plotters vs pantsers in a little more detail today, and offer some examples of authors who use each writing style as well as helpful links and resources.
There are basically two types of writing style
Many people agree that writing styles can be divided into two main categories–plotters and pantsers. Some people like to break that down even further, but I think when you get right down to it, most writers fall somewhere in between these two categories with maybe a small amount of overlap. I’m pretty solidly a pantser, though, so maybe that’s why I’m uncomfortable with analyzing a subject into the ground.
People who are plotters like to plan or outline their stories before they start writing. Depending on the writer, this could be a basic list of events or it could be a comprehensive, scene-by-scene guide that contains character profiles, setting details, and any other information the writer wants to include.
I think the biggest pro of plotting is that you have a better chance of figuring out in advance if something isn’t going to work. A plotter is less likely to get 50,000 words into a story and then realize their epic twist is just an epic fail. It still happens sometimes, though.
For me, the biggest con is feeling like the outline limits what I can do. I learn things about my characters and setting as I write, and I’d hate to not be able to apply that knowledge to my story because it doesn’t fit in with my outline. Some plotters readjust their outlines when this happens–and if it only happens a few times per story, it’s not a big deal. But when I tried outlining a story, it would happen every couple of scenes or chapters. There was no point in having an outline if the entire trajectory of the story changed at the end of every writing session.
However, writers who are true plotters don’t usually feel like their outlines limit them. Instead, they feel like they have more freedom to be creative. They don’t have to sit and stare at a screen and will ideas into existence. The ideas are already there, and all the writer has left to do is flesh everything out.
Well known authors who are plotters
- Kim Harrison creates some pretty detailed outlines for her stories. She posts about them on her blog and social media pages. You can tell she plots, too. If you read her Truth series, details in the last book are tied to events from the first book. She plays a long game with her plotting and planning, and it really shows in her work.
- John Grisham has said that the more time he spends on an outline, the less time he has to spend writing the book. He’s also advised writers not to write their first scene until they know the last.
Resources to help you write better outlines
- The Snowflake Method is probably the most detailed plotting system I’ve ever seen. Once upon a time, I thought it was the greatest thing ever, and I tried to create so many snowflakes. My brain just isn’t wired that way, though, so they were useless for me. But it’s still worth a look. Don’t be afraid to try modifying it to create your own system.
- Masterclass has a free article about creating an outline. This isn’t as comprehensive as the Snowflake Method, but that might work better for some people.
People who are pantsers don’t outline. Their writing style is “by the seat of their pants,” which is where the nickname originates. A lot of people who say they’re pantsers will admit to some kind of organization while they’re drafting. There probably aren’t many people who write a novel without taking some notes or having at least a small idea of where their story or characters are going.
I think the biggest pro of pantsing is that there’s nothing to worry about upfront. You just go. You can change directions whenever you want, or change details about your characters, and you don’t have to worry about how things are going to fit into the outline you designed beforehand.
The biggest con is that you might spend more of your editing time looking for plot holes and inconsistencies than a plotter. You’re more likely to have issues with your story’s pacing, too. These are fixable problems, but they add to the amount of time you’re going to spend on rewriting and revision.
Well known authors who are pantsers
- Stephen King is probably the most notable pantser out there right now. He talked about it in his memoir, On Writing.
- Meg Cabot has a blog article about writing without using an outline. She thinks outlining makes writing harder because once you sit down to actually start the book, you’re tired of it.
Resources to help you write without using an outline
- Writer’s Digest has a pretty good article here about taking a more organic approach to writing.
- The Write Practice has an interesting article by V. R. Craft about her writing approach.
Ultimately, it’s up to you
No two people write in exactly the same way. I hope I’ve been able to give you enough resources and ideas to help you develop your own writing style. If you have any questions, or anything you’d like to add, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.
If you’re interested, you can find the original version of this post here.