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Plotters Versus Pantsers

Are you a Plotter or a Pantser? Some people stand firmly in one camp or the other, with heels dug deeply into the ground, never straying to the ‘other side’.

Plotters have their favorite plot planner and stroke it lovingly each time a new book idea is brewing. This sleek, well-groomed animal is probably a linear, left-brained writer, meticulously researching details and filling out a character chart before even typing ‘Chapter 1’.

The Pantser paces distractedly, sort of hyena-like, bolting when an idea strikes or quietly basking
Photo from by Anankkml
in the sun, contemplating and daydreaming while complex scenes play out in her head. A pantser writes by the seat of her pants and scowls each time she walks by the blank plot planner hanging on the wall. She’s most likely a right-brained, character-driven writer.

My name is Anne and I am a Pantser!

At my recent novel writing retreat, I boldly announced that I am a ‘pantser’. Even though I shared a tried and true (by others) plot planner, beautifully laid out and explained in The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, I dug my heels in, claiming an affinity with my hyena brethren (the more I learn about hyena’s the more I like them… but that’s for another discussion). As I wrote my first novel, Mental Pause, the story flowed from me so rapidly I didn’t have time to plot it out. My characters took over their own development and I had to let them determine what and where the next plot twist would be and how my protagonist would react and when the antagonist would show her true colors. I was dreaming about plot and character development both day and night and couldn’t wait to hit the keyboard to pour out the scenes that were playing in my head.

Is it Different for Fiction vs. Non-Fiction Writers?

So, I strongly believed that I was a pantser, at least when writing fiction. You see, my first two books were non-fiction and both started with a very specific, very linear, chapter outline (which I considered the plot planner’s non-fiction cousin).  So I could only assume that was the determining factor.

As a ‘multi-genre’ writer I often feel a bit torn between which soapbox I should jump on.  So, I had this pantser persona in my head after the experience of writing my first novel. I had loosely jotted down ideas but never thought about plotting a novel. Imagine my surprise when I realized while working on my next novel (which is about halfway done) that I ground to a screeching halt as I tried to apply my ‘pantser’ mentality! During the time I was writing my first novel, we had just moved to Thailand, I didn’t have much freelance work going on, didn’t know many people and it was the tail end of rainy season… and it was National Novel Writing Month. To top it off, I was suffering from peri-menopause’s horrible night sweats, mood swings, and paranoia. You name the symptom, I had it! I needed something to pour myself into so, I wrote all day every day… and loved it! 

Fast-forward two years and we have a full, busy life but I still protect time every week to work on my next novel. The problem is, I can never remember where I left off (another symptom of menopause). I forget the name of that secondary character I introduced the last time I sat down to write (or even if I actually brought them into the picture yet). I kept having to go back and re-read what I wrote and take the first half hour at least, getting back into the story to figure out where I was on the plotline, which was all in my head except for the random notes I had arbitrarily written in a ‘dump’ file! *A side note: I do recommend keeping a dump file going - somewhere to park those wild ideas that come to you out of nowhere but don't have a place... yet!

A Pantser Embraces the Plot Planner... for Now!

As the frustration grew, I finally realized that it would be helpful to have a plot outline or even a scene tracker. I guess I should follow my own advice more often. I started pulling the plotline from the deep dark recesses of my mind, pushing aside the frustration and self-doubt that had crept up. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a novelist. Maybe my debut novel would be my first and last! NO! My mind screamed back. And, I listened. I hammered out all the scenes that still needed to happen to reach the climax and conclusion for Deep Deceit (my working title) and cried with relief as I went back to where I left off and the words started flowing and the odd glance at the scene tracker kept it going.

That’s not to say that some of the scenes won’t be scrubbed for better ideas or they might fall into a different order as I go but I’m feeling much more confident now and am making progress again. I’m still not letting go of the ‘pantser’ in me because I might need her. Is it possible I’m ambidextrous? Who are you?


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