Are You a Plotter or a Pantser?

Most writers–supposedly–fall into one of two categories of writing style. Either they are a plotter or a pantser. But what do these strange terms mean and how do you know if you’re one or the other or maybe something completely different?

If you’ve never heard of the terms before, they describe two completely different writing styles.

I find it fascinating how different authors approach their writing and the methods they use. And the only way to figure out what works best for you is to try different things and see how you like it. Maybe the idea of just sitting down and writing without planning every detail freaks you out. Or maybe the prospect of an outline feels too constricting and stifling. Whatever the case may be, there are things you can take from each to help you in your writing process.

I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions to the rule because, let’s face it, people are so incredibly different in all areas, including writing styles. But I want to explore these two styles because there’s always room to learn and try different techniques in writing (and all creative outlets, to be honest.) And if there’s a writer you admire, why not take writing advice and suggestions from their methods? Even if they don’t work for you, you can always learn something from it, even if it’s what doesn’t work.

The Plotter

What is it?

Think of the Plotter as your straight-laced, organized uncle. The one who organizes his sock drawer and pays his taxes in January. Authors like Marissa Meyer and R. L. Stine outline their books before they write a draft. In fact, I once read that R. L. Stine is so detailed in his outlines that everything, including dialogue, is planned ahead. Plotters plan everything out before they start drafting. That’s not to say that things don’t shift and changes as the book is written and revised, but the story is laid out beforehand. I often wish I was a plotter. I think it would make drafting–especially as you get into the middle–easier.

Pros: The book is already outlined or planned out so the actual drafting part so be quick and simple (even if it’s not necessarily easy.) You know where you’re going with the story and what needs to happen to get there. It’s a more organized and pragmatic way to approach writing and many writers use this method with a lot of success.

Cons: For some people it may stifle the excitement of discovery through writing, or dampen the creativity of story-telling. For writers who like to be surprised by their characters or events in a story along with their readers, plotting can seem dull and uninspiring.

The Pantser

What is it?

If the Plotter is your straight-laced uncle, the Pantser is your hippie aunt who wears love beads and cleans her house by burning sage. Writers like Stephen King and Annie Sullivan are full on pantsers: they sit down to write and just write. Maybe there’s an idea or a situation or a character in their heads, but they write to see what happens and where the story takes them. There is very little–if none at all–plotting that happens before hand.

Pros: Total creative freedom. You learn things about your world, characters, and story arc as you write them. You discover things just as the reader would and often are taken by surprise as your reader would be.

Cons: Things like writer’s block, writing yourself into a corner, and losing track of details are a real problem. Pantsers might have more difficulty drafting a novel or story, or even submitting an outline or synopsis if the publishers asks for it. In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King shares a story about drafting one of his novels and being stuck for weeks at one particular tricky turning point.

The Planster

What is it?

The Planster is the lovechild of your hippie aunt and your uptight uncle. It’s the best of both worlds: mixing some planning and plotting with plenty of room for creative discovery and exploration. A planster will probably have a general idea of where the story is going to go, how the story will end, character arcs, and main events that need to happen, but have little to no idea about all the gaps in-between which allows the writer to make discoveries and find that joy in writing that a pantser would have.

This is the category I fall into. I always have a good solid idea of where my story is going to go, but I never outline. I’ve tried to sit down and do it, but I can’t. I need to be in the story to see what happening.

Pros: It’s a perfect marriage or both writing styles! Some structure plus plenty of freedom.

Cons: Too lose for plotters and too strict for pantsers.

Whatever ever style of writing you fall into, just remember that each writer’s style is completely different. Do what works for you. I don’t think I could ever outline a novel, while some writers like R. L. Stine outline in detail. It doesn’t matter. Find your method, but don’t be afraid to shake it up and explore new ways. You might learn a method that works for you. If you’re a plotter, try pantsing. If you’re a dedicated pantser, give plotting (or at least plansting) a try. You might be surprised at what you can take from it.

Which category do you fall under? Is there a writing style I didn’t talk about? Tell me in the comments below!

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