First things first, I finished my first draft this week!! *does a little dance*
It’s around 70k words right now, and I’ve got plenty of notes about scenes I want to add, remove and rewrite, so who knows how long it will be in the end!
On that note, I thought I’d look at the pros and cons of being a plotter vs. a pantser today.
New to the terms? A plotter is someone who plots their novel out before writing it. A pantser is someone who “flies by the seat of their pants”.
I’ll be honest, I’m a card-carrying plotter, so this blog may be slightly biased, but I can definitely appreciate the creativity and freedom afforded by pantsing. It’s just not for me.
And that’s OK!
Both methods have pros and cons, not least because everyone is different. What works for one may not work for another.
That’s the beauty of art, it’s completely subjective.
So, whether you spend longer outlining your novels than you do writing them, or you sit down with a pen and notepad and just start scribbling, you might learn something from your creative counterparts that could help you improve your craft.
Let’s look at plotters…
There are as many different kinds of plotter as there are writers in the world, so don’t worry if you don’t identify with every word here.
Plotters tend to have an idea of what they are going to write before they start. Whether that’s just a broad concept of theme, a few character traits and maybe a general idea of setting, or a Filofax full of notes, character profiles and a scene by scene outline.
I only started writing seriously last year, and I read a lot of blogs and articles about novel writing before I sat down at my laptop to start chapter one. Mainly by Kristen Kieffer of She’s Novel, Faye Kirwin of Writerology and Christine Frazier of Better Novel Project. I learned a lot about writing in general, and picked up some brilliant tips for crafting a novel that readers will love.
I had an idea of what I wanted to write – I love YA fantasy and knew that was going to be the genre for my first novel (I’ve toyed with making it Middle Grade while writing, but decided against it). I also had a setting in mind – Sherwood Forest, or a fictionalised version, as I live nearby – and a vague idea of plot. I wanted my protagonist to be a teenage girl who discovers a hidden, magical world and learns about her true self over the course of the book.
So, with these things in mind, and a Word doc full of notes and snippets of potential scenes, I sat down to write.
I wrote about 15,000 words in September and October, and then I discovered NaNoWriMo. I stumbled upon the term on Twitter and Googled it, and I’m so glad I did. I decided to join in, knowing that I wasn’t exactly speeding through my first draft at this rate.
In preparation for my first NaNo, I read a bunch of blogs on how to get the most out of it. The one that helped me the most was from Better Novel Project – Day-by-day NaNoWriMo outline: your 30 day cheatsheet. Essentially, this is a list of thirty scenes that you need for your novel, a sort of skeleton framework that you then complete with your own ideas and plot points.
This is the single most helpful idea that I have come across since starting writing. I didn’t follow the framework religiously, but creating a list of thirty scenes I knew I needed to write meant that I always had something to write about during November. I never struggled with where to take the story next, and when I wasn’t feeling inspired I could skip ahead to a different scene.
This level of structure and discipline really worked for me. It’s not for everyone, but I intend to do something similar every time I plot a novel, NaNoWriMo or not. Having a spreadsheet of scenes worked better for me than having a list of events for each chapter or act. I need a more detailed plan with key plot points laid out in order – I can always insert subplots and rearrange the order at a later date.
So, what are the pros for plotters?
- You know where your story is ultimately headed and are less likely to veer off track
- Your characters are unlikely to behave in unexpected, contradictory ways
- You won’t struggle for something to write (goodbye, writer’s block!)
- You know what your next scene/plot point is and you just need to figure out how to get there
- You’re left with a framework that will allow you to go back and add scenes and subplots with ease
- You’ll probably finish the book before your pantser friends (not including the time you spent outlining!)
- You’re not as free to make major changes whilst writing, or risk making your whole outline irrelevant
- When the muse strikes, you might fight it rather than let it flow through you
- If a new scene or character presents themselves you need to figure out where they fit into your plan
- Lots of writers start writing without any idea of how the story will conclude, they like the freedom and excitement of seeing where the story takes them – plotting sort of ruins that
- Plotting can make it difficult to be creative, many writers feel too restricted by a rigid outline
Any other pros or cons for being a plotter? Leave them in the comments!
Now, let’s take a look at pantsers…
Ah, pantsers. You’re much braver than I!
Pantsers range from those with a vague idea of where they want the story to go, to those who start with only a blank page and an open mind.
The main risk with pantsing is writer’s block. Without an outline, it can be easy to lose momentum and struggle with where to take your characters and their stories.
On the other hand, the freedom to write whatever you want must be fantastic for many creatives. With no rules and no restrictions, some incredible and individual works of art can be created.
What are the pros of being a pantser?
- Freedom to write whatever, whenever, and wherever you like (within the story that is, please don’t write while driving!)
- Flexibility – don’t like a character? Kill them. Don’t like where you plot is going? Change it.
- Some of the best ideas have come out of the random scribblings of a writer just playing around, trying something new or breaking the rules
- If freewriting or writing sprints help you to get into the right mindset for writing, pantsing may just be for you!
- Writer’s block is every writer’s worst nightmare, and pantsers are more likely to be struck down by it as they don’t have a plan to follow
- Without an outline, it can be easy to get off track and wind up with a long and rambling middle section that will need a lot of editing to tighten up
- Your characters may start acting ‘out of character’ if you don’t decide beforehand on their personalities, backgrounds and motivations
- Writing about ancient Egyptian Gods? Corruption in local flower competitions? You’re going to have a lot of research to do when you get to draft number two! Make one too many mistakes in your assumptions and your entire plot could wind up on the cutting room floor.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Or a ‘plantser’? What are the pros and cons of your method? Dish the dirt in the comments!