Plotting? Pantsing? Plantsing?




A lot of ink — both actual and virtual — has been spilled over which style of writing is “better,” plotting (planning out the work in whatever detail suits the author) or pantsing (writing freely, letting the story grow organically and as it will).  Tempers can flare over this difference. No, really.

Frankly, I don’t care which style you use. I have read some great books written by plotters and some great books written by pantsers. And some lousy books written by both as well.  My problem arises when people who go one way disrespect people who go the other.

Don’t go around saying that pantsers are sloppy thinkers with no discipline. (I’ve heard that.) Don’t spout off that plotters have no imagination and are all about rules and painting by the numbers. (I  have heard that one, too.)

Me, I’m somewhere in the middle. Call me a plantser.  I need to know where the story is going. An overview, a road map. I don’t need turn-by-turn directions, as it were. I take detours when I travel because often something looks interesting on a side road. I do the same when I’m writing. A new idea will occur to me, and off I go down a somewhat different path.

But when I travel, I’m still headed for, say, Atlanta, Georgia. If I decide to take a little side-trip to spend a little time at a family cemetery in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, my goal is still to arrive (albeit a couple of hours later) in Atlanta.

When I write, my story ending is still (probably) the same. I might take a somewhat different route to get there, but I’ll get there.

My outlines are pretty vague. High points, plot points I want to keep in mind, and the ending I’m shooting for. My character studies are much more in-depth, though. Story grows out of characters. Understand your characters and your story will grow and work for you.

So why the sheep, you say? I thought you’d never ask. Don’t let yourself be a sheep, herded into one writing style or another. Try one. If it works for you, great. Do that again. If it doesn’t, try the other. Try a combination. I found out the hard way that I couldn’t pants my way through a novel. I pants short stories. Novellas are closer to pantsed than plotted for me.  Novels, however, I must plot. If not I wind up following spaghetti strands of ideas into oblivion.