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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Cartwright

Finding Your Writing Rhythm: The Plotter vs. Pantser Spectrum

Writing a novel is a journey through uncharted territory, where imagination reigns supreme and the characters are your faithful guides. But in the world of writing, there are two distinct approaches: strict plotting and pure pantsing. However, many authors find themselves navigating the vast spectrum that lies between these two extremes.

In this blog post, we'll explore the methods and techniques of plotting, pantsing, and plantsing, helping you identify your unique writing style.


Embracing Structure: Plotting

For some authors, structure is the cornerstone of their creative process. They are the plotters, meticulously outlining every aspect of their story before they even put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Here's what makes plotting a preferred method for many:

  • Detailed Blueprints: Plotters thrive on creating comprehensive outlines. They meticulously plan the plot, subplots, character arcs, and major events. This detailed roadmap guides their writing journey and ensures a clear sense of direction.

  • Reduced Writer's Block: With a well-structured plan in place, plotters often encounter fewer instances of writer's block. They know what comes next in the story, reducing the anxiety of facing a blank page.

  • Consistency and Cohesion: Planning allows for consistency in character development and plot progression. It helps in weaving a cohesive narrative, ensuring that every piece of the story puzzle fits perfectly.

  • Efficiency: Plotters typically have a clear goal in mind for each writing session. This focused approach can lead to increased writing efficiency.

Perfecting the Plotting Process

If you lean towards plotting, here are some strategies to refine your approach:

  • Comprehensive Outlines: Create in-depth outlines that cover the entire scope of your story. Divide your narrative into acts and chapters, and include character profiles, backstories, and world-building details.

  • Visual Aids: Consider using visual aids like flowcharts, character diagrams, or timelines to organize your plot. These tools can provide a clear visual representation of your story's structure.

  • Frequent Revisions: Be open to revising your outline as you write. Your characters may evolve in unexpected ways, and your plot might take new and exciting directions. Adapt your outline to reflect these changes.

  • Striking a Balance: While plotting is about structure, don't be afraid to embrace spontaneity when it arises. Let your characters surprise you and be open to adjusting your plan when the story demands it.


Living on the Edge: Pantsing

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the pantsers—authors who thrive on spontaneity and the thrill of the unknown. Pantsing is all about diving headfirst into the writing process with little to no pre-planning. Here's why some writers love this approach:

  • Unbridled Creativity: Pantsers cherish the freedom to let their creativity flow without constraints. They allow their characters to take the lead and are open to unexpected plot twists.

  • Exciting Discoveries: The pantsing process often leads to exciting discoveries. Writers are surprised by the directions their stories take, much like a reader encountering plot twists for the first time.

  • Maintaining Engagement: Writing without a strict plan can keep writers engaged and excited about their own stories. The sense of adventure is always present, making the writing process an exhilarating journey.

  • Freshness and Authenticity: Pantsing can result in authentic, raw storytelling. Characters and plots may feel more genuine because they evolve naturally, driven by the writer's instincts.

Thriving as a Pantser:

If you're inclined towards pantsing, here are some tips to make the most of this approach:

  • Character-Centric: Start with a deep understanding of your characters. Know their motivations, fears, and desires. This knowledge will guide your narrative as it unfolds.

  • Immerse in the Moment: Live in the moment of your story. Let the words flow without worrying too much about what comes next. Trust your characters to lead you.

  • Embrace Rewriting: Editing and rewriting are your friends. The pantsing process often requires revisions to ensure consistency and coherence in your narrative. However, be sure not to edit while you're writing.

  • Stay Open: Be open to spontaneity, but also maintain an overarching vision for your story. This balance allows for both creativity and structure.


Embracing the Middle Ground: Plantsing

So, you've explored the realms of plotting and pantsing, but what if you find yourself somewhere in between? You might be a "plantser," a term used to describe those who strike a balance between both worlds. In reality, most writers lean towards this middle ground, recognizing the merits of both structured planning and spontaneous creativity.

Plantser writers are a unique breed, often combining elements of plotting and pantsing in their writing process. Here's what makes them distinct:

  • Pre-Writing Preparation: Planters might start by creating a synopsis or important story details that act as guiding stars for their narrative. They appreciate having a loose framework before diving into writing.

  • Partial Outlining: While they enjoy some level of planning, planters might focus on outlining subplots, character sketches, or character arcs. These elements help provide structure while leaving room for creative exploration during the writing process.

  • Episodic Pantsing: During the writing of the novel, planters are not afraid to go rogue for certain sections of the story. They savor the freedom of letting their characters and instincts guide them, even if it means deviating from their initial plans.

Finding Your Plantsing Strategy

If you're considering the plantsing approach, you can adopt various strategies to strike the right balance:

  • Major Plot Points: Consider outlining the significant plot points that correspond to the major parts of your book—the beginning, middle (with two distinct parts separated by the midpoint), and the end. This provides a sense of direction without locking you into a rigid framework.

  • Bulleted Lists: Opt for a fast-and-loose outline with bulleted lists. These lists can include plot beats, open threads from previous books (if you're working on a series), and questions you need to answer. While you might not rely on this outline extensively during writing, it serves as a helpful reference when you encounter roadblocks.

  • Character-Centric Focus: Begin your writing journey with a strong understanding of your primary characters. This approach ensures that your characters remain authentic and guides the plot as you go along.

Striking a Personal Balance

The beauty of plantsing is that it's flexible and adaptable. As a planter, you can create a personalized blend of structure and spontaneity that works for you. Remember that there's no one-size-fits-all approach, and the key is to find the perfect balance that allows your creativity to flourish while providing essential structure for your narrative.

Ultimately, whether you lean more towards plotting, pantsing, or find yourself comfortably nestled in the plantsing territory, the goal remains the same—crafting compelling stories that captivate your readers. So, embrace your unique writing style and embark on your writing journey with confidence.


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