Writing Craft

Writing Craft: Plotting vs Pantsing

Ah, the eternal debate in writing: plotting vs pantsing. To plot out the story and perhaps create a formal outline before writing? Or to simply write by the seat of one’s pants and let the story take shape organically as one goes? Some writers adhere to one or the other with fierce dedication, holding that one is the only way to go. So, what are the benefits of each? Is one better than the other? This week’s Writing Craft post explores just that.

Some Plotting Benefits

  • Easier to make sure the story has a solid beginning, middle, and end.
  • Gives you a road map so you don’t get lost and waste a bunch of words on some pointless subplot.
  • Helps to write a tight, focused story.
  • You have the ending and all major beats in mind, which helps with foreshadowing.

Some Pantsing Benefits

  • Ultimate freedom to be as creative as you can.
  • Some of the best ideas come up as you write.
  • You can include or exclude plotlines, scenes, and characters at will.
  • You can enjoy being surprised by your own story as much as your readers will be.

Often, when I’m reading or listening to arguments about plotting vs pantsing, I see people trying to place those who prefer one over the other into a box. “Plotters are rigid and super organized.” “Pantsers are free-spirit hippies.” The thing is, each writer must go with what works for them, and this can vary wildly since we’re all, you know, humans with different ways of thinking.

For me, I use a mix of both, and the ratio of that mix varies by story. I’ve written with a complete, scene-by-scene outline, and I’ve written with nothing more than a loose idea. I’ve also written with hybrids of both methods, where I plot out the major beats but write organically to fill in the gaps. Generally, though, plotting and pantsing are tools writers can use to different ends. Neither is better than the other, but each can be better for some projects – or parts of projects – for some writers.

If I’m writing by the seat of my pants and get stuck in a place where I don’t know what to write next, I’ll turn to creating a loose outline to get back on track. On the other hand, if I’ve been writing along with an outline and find myself becoming bored or feeling like part of the story isn’t working, I’ll give myself permission to write some scenes organically to get the creative juices flowing. Sometimes those stints of pantsing help me to see how the outline needs to be revised.

It really all depends on the story.

As I dig deep into my current WIP this week due to an unexpected and much needed vacation, I find myself using both. I have all the major beats plotted out as I play with some features during a trial of Scrivener, and I’m also letting each scene unfold somewhat organically. This mix helps me grapple with the complexity of the interweaving storylines of two main characters while being able to enjoy some surprises along the way.

How about you? Do you have a preferred method? Have you found either or both methods work for you because of some reason or another? Speak up in the comments!

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