Writerly Habits 4: Plotter Addicts and the Pantsers Who Love Them

Hi, my name is Amanda Rudd and I am an addict.  A Plotter Addict.  There, I said it.  I am addicted to character sheets, bullet-pointed lists, timelines, researching, drawing diagrams and maps, writing thousands of words of history and backstory and world-building descriptions (plenty of which never makes it into the actual story).  I do not, like some writers I’ve met, plot out every single scene for every single chapter (okay, SOMETIMES I do…), but I DO always have all major plot points mapped out (leaving it up to the first draft to figure out how all those plot points proceed, one to the next and so on).  I have all of my major characters as fully fleshed-out as I can manage before I begin.  I generally know how the story will end (though there are a few excepts to this rule).

This is not to say that I always end up FOLLOWING everything I planned out.  I believe that carving your plot plans in stone and never allowing yourself to color outside the lines is a very dangerous habit.  I imagine it would be stifling, leading to complete frustration and/or boredom with the story, and completely remove any sense of adventure or discovery in the writing itself.  And that sense of adventure and discovery is, for me, one of the main attractions of writing.  So, I plan and diagram and map-out to my heart’s content, and for the most part I stick to the major points as I write, but I never hand-cuff myself to the plan.

This has led to some very interesting circumstances.  For instance, as I mentioned above, I generally know how a story will end.  That is often one of the first things that comes to mind (and sometimes it’s the only thing that comes to mind, and I have no idea how I’m going to get to that ending).  However, I have a few stories where I know everything EXCEPT the ending.  This is generally because the direction of the plot and the natures of the characters lend themselves to several possibilities of how the story could end, all of which would be equally plausible but of different tones with different reactions from the reader.  And so all I can do is write the story and see where it leads me, hoping that something within the writing itself, in the way the characters evolve, or in the ways I do or do not change the plot, lead me to the RIGHT ending for the story.

I have also written myself into a number of corners, especially when I deviate from the plot plan I had originally devised.  This can be frustrating, but it can also be fun and even illuminating.  It is thrilling when I find ways of working myself out of the corner I’ve backed myself into, without having to change anything fundamental about what had led me to that point.  And it is also thrilling to see how these situations and my working-out of them, changes the plot from then on (or not).  However, there are still many times when I’ve simply had to go back and re-write whole scenes in order to insure that I simply don’t end up in that corner to begin with.

In the mean time, pantsers have simply jumped into the writing, and occasionally throw a pitying glance and shake of the head in my direction.  “Poor Amanda,” they say, “she’s spent days, maybe even weeks, planning all this stuff out, only to discover she won’t end up following more than half of it.  Why doesn’t she just quit the foreplay and get down to it?”  I’m sure they have a point (though pantsers are in just as much danger of getting stuck as I am), but I’m afraid it’s too late for me to change.

There is much more I could say about plotting vs. pantsing, but far wiser bloggers have written on the subject before, and I now defer you to them.

Chuck Wendig’s “Pantser versus Plotter: The Hoedown Throwdown Shakedown Takedown” is a fantastic article advocating for plotting in Chuck Wendig’s imminently “calm and balanced manner” (or rather, the opposite).

Cid Tyer discusses “The Novel Notebook” – a brainstorming/planning template created by Lynn Viehl.

And here, paranormal romance author Kait Nolan compiles a collection of resources/templates to help in the planning process.

You’ll notice that these links tend more toward the plotting side because plotters like to share the methods of planning that they have found to work for them, while pantsers just get to pantsing it.

So, writers, which are you?  Plotter or pantser?  Or perhaps a little of both?


13 thoughts on “Writerly Habits 4: Plotter Addicts and the Pantsers Who Love Them

  1. Hi Amanda. I was a total pantser for the first many years. All I produced with that approach was hundreds of pages of me playing with my imaginary friends. Now, I’m trying the plot every scene approach, and I have a MUCH better book with deeper characters and exquisite detail. I think it’s because I got all of my pantsing out in my backgrounds and outlines. Thanks for your post. It’s always interesting to hear how other people do things.

    • I’ve never ever been a pantser. I’ve also loved lists and plans and outlines and all that. I have all sorts of calendars, planners, little notebooks for to-do lists, my room is covered in post-in notes full of reminders, etc.

      I think its because I’m very ADHD and my brain is always trying to do a million things at once, and if I didn’t make plans and keep lists I’d never get ANYTHING done.

  2. I like to think that I’m a hybrid. I like to have everything organized, but I’m not going to obsess if I don’t research everything. I also like a little wiggle room to allow my characters to do or react how they would, not necessarily how I have planned.

    • Being a hybrid is good. I do try to leave myself wiggle room. And, like I said, I don’t handcuff myself to a plot-plan. If I deviate, that’s okay. Sometimes, that’s awesome. But I still like to have the plan to start with, and go back to if/when I get stuck.

  3. The concept of plotting makes me break out into a cold sweat, but I know that I need to start doing it because my “pantsing” writes me into corners as well. It’s nice to see that the “plotters” aren’t perfect know-it-alls and can occaisionally get stuck in corners as well!

    • See, I just pantsing it gives me HIVES. *shudders* I need my plans! I need my outlines! I need my lists!

      But no, all the plans and outlines in world don’t save me from writing myself into a corner on occasion. (Often.)

  4. I’m a bit of a failed mixture. I start off planning, planning, planning, then I get impatient, jump into the story half-cocked saying that I’ll ‘figure out the rest as I go along’. I immediately get stuck when I run out of plot, and then I’m left completely hosed and unable to move past the small “safe” area I created with my original planning. -_-

  5. Oh my god, I’m a pantser, I admit it. I get all pumped and jump into a project and then I start to stare at the blinking cursor on my monitor and everything gets blurry. Hence, the total re-write on my story for Kristen. Nothing like winning a critique by the master right when you’ve completely started over to feel a little daunting. Please, Amanda, combine forces with me. Teach me your plotting ways!

    • But hey, at least Kristen will be able to give you some pointers! That’s the main thing! And all you really need to be a plotter like me is a massive complex of neuroses. That goes a long way toward becoming an obsessive plotter. ^__^

      (Though seriously, the Novel Notebook linked to in Cid Tyer’s blog that I linked to (try saying that 5 times fast), is a good place to start.)

  6. Both…but I probably lean more towards the plotter side. I guess. Except for outlines. I make lots and lots of nice and neatly indented outlines with plenty of numbers and bullet points…and a little more of my soul withers and dies every time I do. T_T

    I can write without much idea of where I’m going with something, but generally I don’t jump seriously into a project unless I have more pages of notes than I expect to have of actual story. Even if, in the end, they only ever exist as a collection of all the things that won’t ever happen in the actual story.

    • Yeah, I’ve seen your notes though, and you are definitely a bit of both. You have your random collection of scenes that are generated through jumping in and pantsing it, and then you go through the random collection and try to make sense of it with some outlines and at least general plot ideas, thus becoming a plotter.

      (Speaking of which, get back to plotting and finish TN!)

      • I tried. TT
        I have a good outline for part 3 finally now, and got a few pages of it written a week (or two?) ago. Then life happened and it’s been too much to even think of balancing writing lately. Sadly. Once I get all the car stuff settled, I’ll have to power write for a while and make up for it.

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