Thoughtful Thursday: Pantsing vs. Plotting

Thoughtful Thursday is my own little meme in which I share my thoughts on a certain topic relating to writing, reading, and (on very special occasions) random things.

I’m one of those people who likes to plan. I’m a list addict and I make budgets for fun and I’m very anal about certain things. My shirts are organized by color and I have a bookmark in just about every color so that I’m never forced into a horrid situation where I have to pair an orange bookmark with a blue book cover.

So I guess it’s no surprise that I’m more of a plotter than a pantser. Which can be a bit of a problem because I’ll get so caught up in reading books on novel writing and making elaborate charts and diagrams for my stories and characters that by the end of it, I’ve got a stack of blueprints and outlines and worksheets and a word count of 2 (those two words say as follows: Chapter One). It’s a bit like rolling down a hill; once you start plotting, you can’t stop.

Or at least that’s how it is for me. I know plenty of people who loathe outlines, and sometimes it works for them, sometimes it doesn’t. I know plotters who hate plotting but do it anyway because otherwise what they write will be crap. I know pantsers who can sit there with an idea and just spill out something beautiful without a single thought for graphs and charts and writing techniques. It really depends on the person.

But with that being said, there are some definite pros and cons to each method.

Plotting Pros

  • No surprises: You’re much less likely to find yourself 30k into a first draft before realizing that it’s all wrong.
  • Less writer’s block: You won’t be sitting at your desk staring at a blinking cursor for hours at a time. With an outline, you’ll at least know what comes next, even if you’re not sure how to write it.
  • Fewer plot holes: Outlining is a big plus in this way because it’s much easier to see issues in your story when looking at a chart or spreadsheet rather than when you’re writing the actual novel. And if you write the whole thing by the seat of your pants and go back to read it, it’s likely that some of those same issues that would’ve popped up in the outline will slip past your radar.
  • Cool stuff: Plotting can be so much fun with all of the cool techniques and software and books that are out there. I mean, color coding and drawing giant maps and doing elaborate designs is pretty awesome, especially when it doubles up as an actual means of productivity.

Plotting Cons

  • No surprises: If you’re the type of person who enjoys discovering the story as you go, outlining will take that first-time thrill away from you.
  • Time eater: Sometimes you can get so stuck on plotting and using cool software and tricks and marking every tiny detail that you never get around to the actual writing (it’s certainly happened to me).
  • Burnout: It’s not uncommon for a writer to spend so much energy and effort on an outline that by the time they’re all prepped and ready to go, there’s just no drive left to write the actual novel.
  • Potentially choppy first draft: While an outline is certainly useful, it’s easy to get stuck on following it to the point that you’re just checking off scenes. Protagonist breakdown? Check. First date? Check. Protagonist conquers evil? Check. And it won’t be very fun to read because there’s no real life in it.

Pantsing Pros

  • The thrill of discovery: It’s a wonderful feeling to have epiphanies during writing. Every word you write is a kind of discovery. You get to know your characters and your story and your setting in a very fresh, exciting way.
  • Writing only: Without an outline, you have nothing to focus on except writing, which can mean you get more writing done in less time.
  • Less boredom (possibly): If you never know what’s coming next, there’s bound to be more excitement in writing, and because of it, you’ll probably get more words on the page.

Pantsing Cons

  • Revision will be hell: Your first draft is most likely going to be very messy and revising it is going to equate to rewriting the whole thing.
  • Major issues popping up: You could very well end up with 50k of plotholes, underdeveloped characters, and it can be really overwhelming to see how much work will need to be done to fix everything, which could put you off the whole project.
  • Your plot will likely be rather basic: Without an outline, it’s hard to thread more complex storylines together to make a more interesting read, so it could end up rather dull.

I think the important thing to remember when considering how to write your novel is that there is no right way. No two people work the same way, so your method of writing will and should be completely unique to you. You may be 100% plotter or 100% pantser, or a mix of both, like me. Just find what works best for you and do it.