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Plotting and Pantsing my story

My friends and I have been passing on this topic every now and then. I don't necessarily think that plotting is any better than pantsing or vice versa. A good mix of the two can bear good results if cooked properly.

Let's define it, for the sake of this blog.

Plotter - is a writer who prepares an outline of the story first before writing.

Pantser - is a writer who writes the story first before writing the outline.

I personally have done both, there is no right or wrong answer. They both gave me results I wanted. Let me share a few experiences.

Jessi Tayylor (indie author at Floppi Pages) and author of Morning Light

Originally I called it The Infection, vaguely all about zombies and survival with airships blowing up cities and magical healing sprays because I was a 14-year old who didn't want to search about medical terms. I pantsed this one all the way to Book 3, and yes, the notebooks I've filled were all written by a proud child and ten years later, I'm cringing. Later on, I decided to plot it and adding reason where the crazy airships came from or why there are magical healing sprays that avoid describing medical procedures.

Khrianne O'Connor (writer)

I think I am actually incapable of sitting down to plot a book. Most of the time I don't even have an idea or an outline, I simply open a document and start writing, hoping for the best. For me, that's what makes writing enjoyable, not knowing what comes next. It's totally a me thing, but plotting makes writing feel like a chore (aka flashbacks of school) and anything that feels like a chore makes me run in the opposite direction.

Beck Blackthorn (writer and member of FP community)

I am pro plotter, though I’d consider myself plantser (both) because my plotting is usually rather loose. I live for the Save the Cat plotting beat sheet and I plug all of my story ideas into it. I think on a basic level you need to know where your story is heading, whether it be the ending or the midpoint or something. Having those ideas planned out helps me write the scenes leading up to them. My plotting tends to be simple one-sentence ideas for scenes and then I’m kind of a panster after that just going with the flow of whatever comes to mind and expanding on it, but always within the realm of knowing the beat I’m heading toward. Having even a simple plot helps me make sure I am telling a cohesive story and helps in the editing stages later.

S.D. Beck (indie author at FP) and author of Heart Me

I planned a couple of chapters, a story about how the MC will use social media and dating apps in desperate attempt to get find a date (get laid). It was meant to be an erotica. I plotted how she'd meet a serial killer, a toxic boyfriend, an abusive partner, etc. This was meant to be a dark romance. But then things took a different turn and suddenly the story is something else entirely. Now it's a psychological thriller. Honestly, when my friends ask me how I come up with the crumbs and piecing them together for a plot twist reveal later on, I tell them 'I have no idea'. Because this story told me 'you don't need to plan, you just gotta write'. With the first draft coming to an end, I decided to prepare the outline and close the plot holes from there onwards.

Del Hargraves (indie author at FP) and author of The Gate

I'm a pantser who uses plotting under duress. Too much of an outline and I lose interest in what I'm writing. I also find that as I write, I discover more about the characters and the world that I never considered while plotting that derails my original plans. However, pantsing does not lend itself to proper pacing. I wrote and rewrote and got lost in the characters, in their problems. Through trial and much error, I've found a balanced blend that seems to work. My first draft starts as pure pansting. About halfway through I'll have more of an idea of where it's going, and create a minimal outline to get to the end. The second draft is cutting and adding new scenes, changing placement of scenes, and putting structure to the story like the fairy godmothers prop up the cake in Sleeping Beauty. After that it's just icing (I wish).

Madeline Scriptora (writer)

As a writer, I'm a plantser. I find just 'discovering' the story as I go helpful for the initial writing; feeling free to just follow the story keeps it interesting, and ensures I'll keep going. (after numerous attempts to outline story ideas really thoroughly before actually writing, and finding myself burning out on them, and losing the spark of the original idea, I turned more to short stories... following one of those led to my current wip, a lengthy historical fantasy novel. However, to make a coherent story, I've found some plotting and outlining after that initial writing to be helpful for structural revision. I don't analyze my characters before I write them, but instead write lots of dialogue and some situations for them to respond to, slowly learning who they are, (and in the case of my historical fantasy work, did lots of research on them). However, I have found it helpful to compare their journeys to various growth arc outlines, and used those for rearranging or rewriting parts that hadn't seemed quite right, but I couldn't quite feel my way through before. The result: usually stories that I enjoy writing through the first time, and don't quite feel like killing myself for during editing. I've actually finished some short stories, have hope for this novel, and while I'm still developing my craft, I've begun to like more how they've turned out.

Nathanael Graveborn (indie author at FP) and author of Winterfall: First Light

My biggest flaw when I write: Research. I liked calling them rabbit holes. I've opened tab after tab, devouring information and forgetting them all the next day or a couple weeks afterwards. Safe to say that I started my story as a Plotter. I wanted everything about the story ready-to-serve me and served-in-a-silver-platter, to the point that I don't have to do any form of revenge like name ideas or city names, coming up with lore or a magic system on the way. No. I wanted everything ready, the same way Violet Bouldelaire is ready to pick up stack knowledge from books she's ready that is needed for the occasion. That's how my plotting system works. For the rest of the story, that's where I begin pantsing. I only prepared a vague yet with proper direction outline as to where this character is going, but I'm going to let them take the wheel when it's time to write the story.

N.E. Frost (indie author at FP)

I like to see it more as a spectrum, with people falling somewhere in between. I think pure plotting or pure pantsing hurts creativity, and both have their strengths and weaknesses that show best in a combined approach. The exact extent? That depends on the individual person. Like for me, I found too much outlining to hurt my flow of words. If I planned right down to specific words and scenes, I'd find myself reining in my words to get to those that were planned, and then leaving them as they were. It a way. This has been true for me whether writing stories or even articles. I'm someone who likes the freedom. Then again, a massive project such as a novel is tough to get through with no plan. Stories I've written without planning have almost always ended in me writing myself into a corner, or writing unsatisfying bits. So a good amount of planning, at least the main story beats, is important for me. That's how I do it, I plot the main story beats, and then let the flow carry me through them to the end. Others may find more freedom in structure, or in less, it's up to the person. The only way though, is a lot of trial and error. The Stolen Prophecy so far has had the best method for me, and it required many, many stories before to arrive at this point. Experimentation is the name of the game, and finding the right equilibrium is the key to unlocking your writing!

Ann Quinn (indie author at FP)

My writing journey began not too long ago. Before November 2023, my only experience was dabbling in fanfiction. In that realm, I didn’t have to plan much—the characters were fully fleshed out, and their stories were already written. My role was to explore the "what if" moments that canon left unexplored. Everything changed when I finally decided to write the original story I had always dreamed of but never found the courage to start. The thought of planning everything beforehand was daunting. To prepare, I enrolled in a couple of online writing courses to understand how to approach this new and intimidating craft. Learning that the first draft didn’t need to be perfect was the push I needed to overcome the mindset of "if I’m not exceptional, I won’t do it." During this period, I discovered the concepts of plotters and pantsers. Initially, I couldn't see myself as a plotter. I attempted a rough outline for my novel, but a few chapters in, my characters had already taken the wheel. As a result, my first draft was entirely the product of pantsing. Now, working on my third draft, I regret not spending more time plotting. My story’s sci-fi elements require extensive research and worldbuilding. I’ve also struggled with my characters' past, hence why I recently promised myself I wouldn’t start another book without having detailed character backgrounds first. Ultimately, I think there’s no right or wrong way to approach writing. However, my advice to myself and anyone who resonates with my experience is that some planning can go a long way. If not, your first rough draft can serve as the outline you need to craft the story you want to tell.

Mia Mouse (writer)

I agree mostly with the context here. There's not really a right or wrong way of writing as it mainly depends on the resulted outcome you want to answer whether or not you really need to plan out something. It also depends on the subject and themes you're writing about if they're sensitive topics you'd need extra care with or familiar themes you know like the back of your hand. Some personal examples: I've written short stories featuring a internationally adopted character. I'm internationally adopted and it was a short slice of life theme so I didn't need really need to plot the story or the chapters they were in. I've also written a story based in Seattle, Washington. I don't live in Seattle, Washington. I planned that story entirely. One I working on now takes place in a college with a hearing impaired character which I'm writing and researching as I go. TL;DR, I would say it depends largely based on how essential it is to the story's quality as a whole as well as the writer's familiarity and ability to write with the chosen themes, topics, and subject matter.

Grey (indie author at FP)

I'd be a pro pantser and plotter, since I personally use a mix of both. Throughout my entire writing journey I forced myself to try both methods to see which one worked best for me and in the end I simply took parts of both methods to create my own. I've always believed it to be important not to limit yourself to the cut out version of methods and as a writer that constantly evolves, the method I use needs to be one that can evolve with me. One that I can implement no matter the genre and no matter how I'm feeling about my work. The first method I ever tried out was plotting. It was a high fantasy novel, so the thought of going into it with a heavy outline seemed obvious. I outlined every single chapter with intense details along with a lot of worldbuilding and character plotting at the side as well. In the end, though, it didn't end up working too well because any small change that I made while writing the actual draft would throw me entirely off. It came to the point where a lot of the original outline had to be looked over, rendering it essentially useless despite having worked so hard on it. The finished first draft was incredibly weak and when I wrote the second draft, 99% of the first draft ended up being scrapped. My second project after the miserable failure of the first, I decided I'd use pantsing instead. Was definitely not a wise decision considering I was writing a murder mystery. I ended up getting extremely stuck half way into the draft and dropped the project.(Picked it back up eventually and managed to finish the draft with the new techniques I developed since then). My third project I decided I'd use a semi-mix of both methods. I kept my outline incredibly light and undetailed, allowing myself to be able to freely make changes as I wrote but also giving me structure. Now, after everything I've learned trying out all these methods, I came up with my own. I doubt it's original or anything, but it's something that I've curated based off my own experience. In my opinion, a perfect balance of both plotting and pantsing. Before that, it is also important to consider the weight of what you're writing. For example, my third project worked well with the method I used because it was not very complex, the opposite can be said for my second. The method I use is dependent on the depth and complexity of the story I'm seeking to write. The more weight I believe a story will hold, the more I will outline. But, either way, the method will still go as follows: I outline important characters, basic information on the world, along with add-ons I believe are necessary. My outline for the plot of the story reads more like a synopsis, and is made for the sole purpose of giving me a feel for the story and to generate plot points and scenes I'd like to write. Then I'll go immediately into the first draft and outline chapters as I go. Using this method I wrote the second draft of my first project and am currently using for my fourth project. The result is enough freedom to make changes and enough structure to keep me from getting stuck.

The thing is, there is no right or wrong in how we want to write our stories. We can choose to start planning, we can leave the planning, do a mix of both--it's okay! Because at the end of the day, if it cooks, it cooks. A wise man told me once that if five different people are given egg as the main ingredient, the four people will cook it four different ways. There's hardboiled egg, sunnyside up, scrambled eggs, omelette and many more.

Same goes with writing. We all have our style, our pattern, how we process information and convey them into our prose.

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