Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. I met Steve DeWinter while lining up authors and established writers to post on this original series.
Pantsing or plotting?
By Steve DeWinter
Pantsing or plotting?
Which is better?
Which one is the right tool for the job of writing a story?
If you have been around for a while as a writer, you might already know what these two terms mean. If these are new to you, let me sum them up.
Pantsers write by the seat of their pants with little direction beyond the spark of an idea. The story grows organically and can take sudden twists and turns.
Plotters outline the story from the beginning to the end. They already know the story’s direction, and ending, before they write the first line of prose.
But which one is better? A quick Google search reveals many lively debates on this issue.
The pantsers main argument against plotting goes a little something like this: Plotting kills the muse. I want my characters to surprise me. I want to experience what my readers experience and not know how the story ends until I write it. If I plot out my story ahead of time, the characters will be one-dimensional and the story will be predictable. My story will be cookie-cutter garbage.
The plotters have just as strong an argument against pantsing that sounds a little like this: Pantsing results in a wandering mess that requires umpteen revisions to mold it into a cohesive story, usually resulting in tossing out large chunks of previous drafts as unusable during each rewrite. What a waste of time.
Looking at the graphic at the beginning of this post, you might think you know which side of the fence I land. If you think I am on the side of plotters, you would be half-right. If you think I am on the side of pantsers, you would still be half-right. I firmly straddle the fence on this issue because (drum roll please) both sides are right.
To be honest, I am not sure why anyone is debating these as two conflicting methods of writing. It is a little like debating whether the hammer or the screwdriver is the best tool for the job. For the repairperson staring into the toolbox, it would depend on the job as to which tool to use.
Plotting is your roadmap. It gives you direction and lets you know right away if a path strays too far from the main story. Plotting provides focus (i.e. the plot) for your story. If your story is unfocused, and is instead a rambling mess, you will lose and confuse your readers. That is the worst crime a writer can ever do. Life does not make sense, but our fiction has to.
Pantsing is the detailed experiences of that journey. Here is where you discover the sights, sounds and emotions in your story. Pantsing provides character for your story. It is the voice of your writing style.
Writing a book is not a singular activity. It is a collection of separate and distinct activities. Pantsing and plotting are two unique tools in the writer’s toolbox to be employed at different times during the writing process. Using both skills shapes your story in the most efficient and well-organized manner while still allowing for the thrill of discovery.
I urge everyone who wants to take writing as a serious business to look at every tool in your toolbox and see the benefits of using each one where necessary. Plumbers and engineers use a variety of tools in order to complete the different tasks of their job. The same is true for the writer.
Learn and practice every writing tool at your disposal and learn how to use the right one at the right time, every time.
Steve DeWinter is an American born adventure/thriller author whose evil twin writes science fiction under the pseudonym S.D. Stuart. His latest novel, “Child Of Shadow”, is available on Amazon.