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  • Writer's pictureGarret Castle

Plotting vs Pantsing and the In-Between

Updated: Apr 7

Plotting vs Pantsing

If you have browsed writing articles or posts, you have probably seen Plotting vs Pantsing before. Or perhaps it went by a different name, but the concepts are the same. Plotting, Planning, or Outlining refers to a writer who plans out their story before jumping into drafting. Pantsing, or Discovery Writing, is for writers who jump right into the writing, or "fly by the seat of their pants".

Depending on how you like to write, you are likely already favoring one more than the other. Personally, I tend to fall more toward planning. While it is natural to have a preference, I have seen some articles acting like all writers will be one or the other. From my experience, limiting yourself to just one side can be hindering and there can be a lot of in-between. In fact, there is even a term for the in-between: Plantsing. Like with the word itself, Plantsers fall somewhere between Plotters and Pantsers.

While all these terms are great and all, there is a bit of a catch. Writing will often involve both plotting AND pantsing. Even if you write the most detailed of outlines, chances are you will still discover more about your characters and narrative as you write it. And while jumping right into the draft may avoid a classic outline, you will likely need to revise your draft and, especially for larger works, this will involve some planning. So Plotting vs Pansting is less about doing one over the other but just which you do first when you write.

So, a plotter is someone who starts by planning their story and a pantser is someone who starts by writing their story unplanned, but those categories are rather broad. For example, would planning a detailed outline covering every step of the story with all the character arcs and plotting just a sentence for each chapter both qualify for a plotter? Perhaps, though I would say the latter is closer to a Plantser since there still are some plans, much is left to be discovered during the draft.

In Practice

All in all, when it comes to writing the important thing is doing what works for you. But it is also worth trying different things, even if they don't seem your style. I mentioned at the start that I am more of a plotter. This is because I want to have a clear idea of my story and characters before I start so there is less to be changed later. But while working on a longer project, I found that is more idyllic than feasible.

No matter how much I planned, as I worked on the story, I would find things I did not even consider, so I'd either have to pants it and figure it out as I wrote or stop writing and take time to think it over. Another thing that both went against the outline and was enabled by it was writing out of chronological order. I always thought it was best to write chapters in the order of my outline since each tends to build on the previous, but jumping ahead to some key moments helped me better understand the characters and the narrative. That is both a form of discovery writing and making use of an outline to be able to jump ahead in the story.

As you can see from my example, the line between plotting vs pansting can blur real quick when it just turns into drafting and writing. So, my advice would be to start with what works for you and not be afraid to switch it up as you go. If you only have a partial outline and want to try writing a chapter, don't feel like you need to finish the outline first; if you go ahead and write, it may help you discover more of your story to write a stronger outline. Likewise, if you start delving right into the story and feel you could use more structure, step back and do some planning. Sometimes this may result in going back to revise or rewrite parts of the story, but this can also lead to new insights to lead to a stronger draft and less revision later.

Either way, chances are your first draft will have to be reworked somewhat in revision. The important thing is that, regardless of how you start, you do whatever works for you to keep writing.

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