Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Plotters vs. Pantsers

This week's article will be on the two major types of fiction writers I keep hearing about: plotters and pantsers. The difference in approach between the two seems to define how the first draft of anything is done, and there have been heated arguments over the merits of their respective style. Which one is right for you? Have a look.

Simply put, plotters are writers who plan the heck out of anything before they begin writing. They have complete character profiles on absolutely everyone in their book, they have a detailed outline of every chapter, scene, interaction, and implication, and can weave the whole thing together into a complex whole when they start writing. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They get an idea and start writing to see where it leads them, discovering new characters as they go and generally letting the characters and plot do what feels natural.

Plotters take a while to actually get to the writing. They invest a lot into the front-end stuff, from outlining to researching, and generally collect a healthy file on their book before they actually start writing. Pantsers don't do a lot of front-end stuff, but launch into the story right away. Any research or notes they need to address happens either during the writing, or during the back-end stuff like revisions.

One a plotter gets to the writing, their preparation level tends to allow them to blast straight through the rough draft, with only minimal pausing due to unrelated writing issues like writer's block or even a bad case of Can't-Be-Arsed. A pantser may start quickly, only to have to stop and go back to fix a research error or look something up or work out how this that or the other detail would work within their setting. Occasionally their characters will simply stop cooperating, forcing the hapless pantser to figure out what's going wrong with the story or where it needs to go next.

Plotters may plan out a lot of books at once (see: James Patterson) or even had the entire course of a series mapped out (see: J.K. Rowling), but it seems logical that with the amount of prep they have, they would actually write one book at a time. When you know exactly where your book is going to do, there is nothing to stop you from focusing on that project until it's done (at least the rough draft) before moving on to the next thing in line. Pantsers... frequently have to improvise. They might have a whole pile of works in progress lying around because of some combination of writer's block, attention deficit creator disorder, or because they just got stuck in a plot hole and couldn't figure out how to dig their way out. This is not to say that they don't finish anything, of course--they just are more likely to have multiple irons in the fire.

This is, of course, not intended to be an indictment on the quality of writing produced by either pantsers or plotters, as both are equally capable of producing quite wonderful works of fiction. Pansters are not universally disorganized, and plotters are not universally anal-retentive neat freaks. With sufficient editing, both can produce perfectly enjoyable stories. They just go about it in different ways.

What style suits you? Let me know in the comments!

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