Fiction authors can be categorized into 2 types: Plotter and Pantser.
There is no right or wrong. Or that one type is better than the other type.
It’s about understanding yourself and choosing a type that suits you.
Then, playing up your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses.
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Definition: Structure vs Freedom
At the core of a plotter and pantser are Structure and Freedom respectively.
- Plotter: outline before you write
- Pantser: write as you go
Right away, you can see that they’re two ends of a spectrum.
Characteristics: Left-Brained vs Right-Brained
If you’ve done the left or right brain quiz (which I’m sure we all did), you can easily figure out which type of writer you are.
Plotter are more left-brained while pantser are more right-brained.
- Plotter (left-brained): logical, orderly, organized
- Pantser (right-brained): creative, imaginative, artistic
Writing Tools & Story Notes
When writing your story, there are some tools you might use or notes about your story.
These tools and notes will differ according to the type of writer you are.
Plotters use a wide variety of tools and create multiple notes to plan their story. Examples include
- One-line summary of each scene or chapter
- Character profiles: age, appearance, personality etc.
- Notes on settings, locations, creatures, magic, language, culture etc.
They might even have one whole folder containing detailed notes about worldbuilding.
And to organize these notes, they would
- Break them into bullet lists, mind maps, tables etc.
- Use tools like Evernote & Scrivener
- Pen them down in notebooks (from Etsy or eBay)
Just look at the number of notes I’ve created in Evernote for my book!
Unlike plotters that plan ahead in advance, pantsers go with the flow.
So all they need to do is just sit in the chair and write away.
It’s as simple as that!
Type Of Story: Plot-driven vs Character-driven
Precisely because plotters outline their stories before they write them, their stories tend to be more plot-driven.
Every scene and chapter was already planned and is required to move the plot forward. Progress towards the next conflict.
All of these scenes (no matter how insignificant they seem) actually plays a part in the overall structure. They might be part of the three-act structure, provide a clue to some mystery or forebode what is to come in later chapters.
On the other hand, pantsers have no fixed plot in mind. Their story is like a blank canvas where nothing is set in stone.
Instead, they let their fictional characters take control. These characters that have a life of their own might lead the story to a thrilling adventure or drive the story into a corner where it becomes difficult to continue.
They help to keep the plot moving. Hence, stories written by pantsers tend to be more character-driven.
Pros & Cons
Plotters tend to write faster and more efficiently because they enter a writing session knowing exactly what to write for today’s scene. They already spent time at the beginning to research and plot the story. So in the actual writing session itself, they just flesh out all the scenes. No time is wasted thinking about what to write. They just write.
On the contrary, pantsers might be slower because they enter a writing session with no idea what they’ll be writing today. However, they’ll gain bursts of speed when inspiration strikes them and characters take control.
Stories by plotters are more inflexible because everything was already outlined and planned in advanced. So even if a tiny scene changes, there is a chance that the entire plot might change and thus, plotters might have to rewrite the outline to accommodate the change.
Such an issue doesn’t happen to pantsers where they can change anything anytime. If they feel like killing an irritating character, he or she disappears from the manuscript. If they feel like changing the plot entirely, the story alters. Everything is flexible. The author is the one with the final say of how the story goes.
Plotters are less likely to encounter writer’s block due to their exhaustive outline with detailed scenes.
Pantsers, though, are more likely to encounter writer’s block. They might get stuck at times where they can’t continue the story or don’t know how to continue.
For plotters, their stories will have fewer plot holes and coherence issues. If they rewrite their drafts, it’s more for fixing grammatical and spelling errors or writing style and tone issues.
I also sometimes rewrite scenes due to out-of-character situations. For example, when I read my draft again, I notice that this is something my protagonist won’t say or do.
More in-depth research and rearrangement of scenes might need to be done by pantsers after their first draft.
Just see what this pantser author went through after writing her draft!
Some will argue that plotters are sacrificing creativity for structure. Which I admit is kind of true since they’re limiting creativity with their comprehensive outline.
Also, their stories might feel a little bit lifeless because they’re basically just checking off items in the outline.
I disagree though. Creativity should have already been incorporated into the plot itself. Whether it’s an out-of-the-world setting or atypical characters.
Since pantsers let their creative juices guide their pen, they are usually regarded as the more creative author.
The conversations between characters, how they interact and behave with each other also seem more lively and real. Precisely because they are alive at the point of writing itself.
Mix Of Both… Hybrid
Remember, plotter and pantser are not mutually exclusive.
You can have characteristics from both. But perhaps, more inclined to one than the other.
Take me for instance. I’m a plotter-pantser where I’m more plotter than pantser.
Before I start writing my story, I break down the plot into chapters with specific scenes in them. I also think about the beginning and ending like how the first and last scene should look like, whether it’s a happy or tragic ending.
But at the same time, I don’t really go into many details. I might list down certain events that will happen but not the details like who said or did what that triggered the event. During the writing session itself, I sometimes get inspired where the characters become alive and just say or do something on their own. For example, I didn’t plan the exact words for the dialogue between characters but they had a voice of their own and started talking to each other.
Now It’s Your Turn
So, are you more like a plotter or pantser? What other differences do you notice between them?