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Thread: From pantser to plotter? Or vice versa?

  1. #26
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Thanks for all the replies, it's really interesting to hear about other writers' ways of working.

    I always assumed that heavily planning and plotting would mean I'd have less enthusiasm left for the actual writing, or that it would somehow dull the creative process, but whilst that might be true for some people/some projects, so far I'm finding that the opposite is true- all the outlining and daydreaming has me super keen and ready to go.

    I've got a first chapter now, and at no point during it was I tearing my hair out thinking "what does this scene need to show?!" because I already knew, which made a refreshing change. So for this story at least, it seems plotting was the right call.

  2. #27
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Madkei's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TellMeAStory View Post
    You know what I'd do? I'd seal up all those preparatory documents and start writing without allowing myself to consult them--on the theory that whatever really works sticks.

    Then when the first draft is complete, I'd unseal those notes and see if I missed something good--on the theory that you can never have too many good ideas.

    Best of both worlds, no?
    This is great advice! I might have to try this for my third act.

    Honestly it's much more of a spectrum, in my mind, than to be purely a plotter or pantser. I'm writing a multiple POV novel, so I started out by writing scene titles as character names to make sure it was spread evenly. Then I started writing random scenes and placing them in one of those titled scenes. Eventually, though, this morphed into an entire plot, and the scenes took on titles of action or conflict rather than characters. Seemingly overnight I had my whole book plotted. Don't be afraid to let your process morph. Let the inspiration carry you rather than the process.

  3. #28
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    Whatever works for you and the book you're working on is the right method.

    There are other methods besides pantsing or outlining, including variants of each; it's not a binary.

    Things change; what works for this book might not work for the next, and what works for the middle might not work for the beginning.

    Do what works; be willing to change if you need to.

  4. #29
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by amergina View Post

    I mean, outlining is essentially pantsing all at once, or at least that's how my brain sees it.
    That's true. And it's probably a much more efficient way of writing a novel. It just doesn't work for me, because "what happens next" is entirely dependent on what's gone before, and I don't just mean story events. It grows out of what's actually been written--the dialogue, description, internals, voice, POV, the very language of story--none of which exist in the outline. Which is why I can't write an outline or a synopsis of a story that hasn't been written yet. I can do it after the fact.
    Last edited by BethS; 05-11-2017 at 04:39 PM.

  5. #30
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    I'm finding more and more that I have to follow the story rather than lead it. Previously, even though I worked without "planning" I had some idea of the story I *wanted* and I have learned that trying to make that 'dreamed-of' story happen meant that the stream of ideas would dry up (sooner rather than later). I have also found that what I write has to read like a story, or I lose the thread.
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  6. #31
    practical experience, FTW Sword&Shield's Avatar
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    I probably fall into a pretty large margin of folks. I like to do both.

    There are 3 rules I adhere to in my writing process:

    1- When I "plot", I setup sign posts. Big moments, events, actions, etc that I know I want to do. Directions from Beginning to End.
    2- When I "pants", I allow my creativity to connect each of my sign posts together. This is the creative/discovery part when actually writing.
    3- I give myself permission to change sign posts if I find a really cool scenic detour or back road worth exploring.

    I don't think I could write an outline and stick to it 100%- when writing, you are learning something knew about your characters and story with every sentence you bang out. And likewise, I don't think I can start with the beginning of a story and navigate my way to a satisfactory conclusion without some sort of light at the end of the tunnel to guide me.

  7. #32
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    Yes! I have recently become a pantser. Sort of.

    I used to be a very dedicated outliner. The outline was color coded, totally organized, etc. But then I realized that this process was actually draining a lot of my energy and taking way more time than necessary. I was constantly going back and forth between the MS and the outline every time I made a change, making sure everything was exact. It got draining and I didn't feel it was helping me that much.

    So, now my new process is to simply plot out the story the way I used to do on my outline, but in the actual MS. I begin by planning the scenes I have ideas for using red text in brackets. So it looks like:

    [Scene 1: Steve heads to the space station to finish his duties]
    [Scene 2: Steve encounters bloodthirsty alien at the space station]

    I do this for the entire book, then I go back and write each scene. You could view this as outlining but I view it more as writing a skeleton draft, then a first draft and so on. Once it becomes an actual book with fully written scenes, I just continually rewrite it, letting it change however it sees fit. So, I guess this process is somewhere between outlining and pantsing.

    At this point I find that it's easier for me to keep track of the story in my head vs maintaining a separate, organized file that keeps track of the story, but that's just me.

  8. #33
    practical experience, FTW kaylim's Avatar
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    You know, I had a huge problem with this for a really long time. I started out as a "pantser" because I started to write a novel when I was 15 and gave up after like 28,000 words or so. So then I read a lot of advice articles and every single one of them I read said plotting was better or that it worked for them. So for years I tried to plot novels and that failed as well. There were three projects where I spent a significant amount of time trying to come up with a working novel in outlines and index cards. I almost gave up on it entirely. However, I'm just finishing up the first draft of my novel now without any outline and I realized something important. Lack of direction wasn't my problem. I had a determination problem. At the time, I didn't understand that writing was not going to be perfect the first time around. I also was way to interested in making a cookie cutter novel that would solve all my problems and make me a lot of money. I gave up way too quickly on it. I wrote a lot of shorter work before I ever tried to write a novel and I always enjoyed them and was proud of how they ended up. Plotting the novels ended up causing me to not be able to write the way I wanted to. I'm not a very organized person either so I think trying to catalog my stories ended up just making me feeling overwhelmed.

    With all that said, I don't think plotting is bad if it works for the person using it. I just wanted to say something in defense of pantsing because I feel like plotting advice articles on the internet are way over-represented.

  9. #34
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    I do a combination of both, though depending on the project I'm more pantser than plotter or visa versa. It really depends on the scope of the book if I can keep it all in my head or not.
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  10. #35
    Has One Badass Arm ManWithTheMetalArm's Avatar
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    When it comes to short stories, I pants, but when it comes to something with multiple chapters, I outline. Most of my short stories are usually spontaneous, brought on by something I've seen or read and made me go, "Oh hey, that's a neat idea."
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  11. #36
    practical experience, FTW kneedeepinthedoomed's Avatar
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    I used to pants it when I was a teenager. Back then I had huge problems with creating an outline first. They tried to teach us that in school and I just couldn't do it. But I have come to view that as a lack of oversight.

    I found it helps to create a skeleton outline, sort of like roughly staking a claim, so the large top-level movements are staked out and I don't need to worry about them while writing scenes.

    The outline might change a lot during re-writing and editing, of course. It's not set in stone.

    I find it hard to imagine that someone can just sit down and write from beginning to end without dropping a subplot, forgetting a character or something similar. If you can do it, hats off. But as soon as you plan ahead in your mind or keep track of character arcs and subplots, you're moving away from pure pantsing IMHO. It's just that some do it on paper and some in their minds, maybe.

    Outlining even lightly, to me, is like viewing the story from a bird's eye perspective. This tends to help me spot any loose ends very quickly. Writing the scenes, then, is like getting in the driver's seat. Which is cool too. But personally, having that helicopter cam available for rough directions while driving feels kinda helpful. So I guess I switch between the two, or do both.

    I do think that freestyle stream-of-consciousness is very useful to get you into a story, whether on paper or in the mind. But once you're halfway and have a dozen characters and half a dozen locations to keep track of, a bit of plotting might be a nice memory aid. So maybe it's harder to pants when you have more characters and more subplots.

    J.R.R. Tolkien, in his preamble to The Lord of the Rings, seems to describe plotting when he mentions that he wrote parts of the story in a non-consecutive way, but also pantsing in that he writes he only "foresaw" the events to a certain point. It seems he saw the story in his mind, but only up to a point, and I bet he made a ton of notes. He also mentions that it had to be almost completely rewritten later, which is where pantsing would most definitely become plotting.

  12. #37
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    I'm moving in the plotter direction, as a result of my latest revision. I pantsed about a quarter of a million words, and now, as I'm sorting through them, dividing between the necessary and the unnecessary, I'm doing a thing where I list all the scenes that need to be there (but aren't) and then write them. It's a whole lot like plotting, but after the fact, and my mind just keeps wondering why I wasn't doing it that way to begin with. I doubt I'll ever be a rigid whole-outline from the beginning plotter, but I'm definitely coming up with more uses for the technique.

  13. #38
    ErinGlover ErinGlover's Avatar
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    I started as a pantser but I found pretty quickly it didn't work for me. Now I get my story idea in my head and start planning from the middle. I make sure the protagonist and antagonist meet up at the halfway point, then plan my plot points around that big thematic question. This leaves lots of room for creativity as I go and for the characters to develop, including the protagonist and antagonist. I might jump from the middle to the hook for the beginning. But I make sure I've planned out the beginning, the 20% mark, the first half of the middle, the middle, the second half of the middle, and the 75% mark. I usually sketch out 10 different endings. It's what keeps me from getting writer's block and keeps my imagination alive.
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  14. #39
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    My process is somewhere in between. I used to be much more of a plotter, but I've recently found that my stories go in more interesting directions if I become more of a pantser. I still have general ideas of where the story is going, but I'm leaving my mental outline open to change. From time to time, I will still outline like I used to.

  15. #40
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kneedeepinthedoomed View Post
    But as soon as you plan ahead in your mind or keep track of character arcs and subplots, you're moving away from pure pantsing IMHO.
    Well, IMHO , this is splitting hairs that don't need to be split. What is "pure pantsing," anyway? Who gets to define it, or to decide that one person's method is "pure" or the "real thing" but another person's isn't? What purpose does that serve?

    If one is going to define "pantsing," it might be best to go to the root of that (ugly, IMO) word and remember that it derives from the idiom "flying by the seat of the pants." Which, according to this, means to "Decide a course of action as you go along, using your own initiative and perceptions rather than a predetermined plan or mechanical aids."

    There is nothing in that simple definition that implies that the writer's mental processes are or must be void of any explorations into the future of the story. Or that such mental explorations mean they're no longer writing by the seat of the pants. All pantsing means is that they're feeling their way through the story rather than following a pre-made plan.

    And fwiw, some pantsers certainly can hold the entire developing story in their head, including sub-plots and characters and whatever else. Others may have need to keep notes as they go along. Neither method changes the fundamental way they approach writing. And for that matter, there are some pantsers who write the whole story out of order, without knowing how all the scenes they're writing are going to connect up until they finally reach the point where the connections become visible and they can see the pattern the story is taking.

    Ultimately, it doesn't matter how a story is written. All that matters is whether you end up with one that's worth reading.
    Last edited by BethS; 06-14-2017 at 10:49 AM.

  16. #41
    practical experience, FTW Adelle's Avatar
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    I definitely do a half-n-half. I know the ending, I know the beginning, and then I start writing. About halfway I reevaluate, finish the novel, and then go through and edit the thing, keeping in mind it needs to be a coherent story.

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  17. #42
    figuring it all out KnavesAndKnots's Avatar
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    I was a pantser for a while. I used to find that if I outlined in too much detail, then I'd feel like the story was already written. It left me with no motivation to write it out word by word. So instead of outlining, I wrote from chapter one with a blank canvas and pantsed it.

    BUT NOW, I find that if a novel idea is one that I *really* want to write, then outlining and planning makes me MORE excited to get writing, rather than less. If I start getting those old feelings of 'now that I know how it's going to go, I can't be bothered to make it happen', then I know that it's not a story that I'm passionate about. I've also learnt a lot about how to structure novels, so I'm benefiting a lot more from my outlines than I would've done in the past.

    I'm now totally enamoured with combining music & pinterest to give me the flavour of a scene. The only issue is that I can't keep those things in my beloved notebooks!
    Last edited by KnavesAndKnots; 06-17-2017 at 02:17 AM.
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  18. #43
    At one with The Force Keithy's Avatar
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    I plot each chapter (and scenes within each if there's more than one)

    But within scenes/chapters there's quite a bit of pants.

    And there's a famous occasion when I killed off a character only to discover he was required 20 chapters later!

  19. #44
    practical experience, FTW
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    I'm a pantser. What comes in the story stems from whatever new bit I write. It brings new ideas. So if you were to ask me in the early stages what's going to happen, I wouldn't even know. I'd know the end destination, but I wouldn't know the road taken to get there. If I REALLY wanted, I could do an outline, but it would take a really, really, really long time trying to think up stuff without having stuff to build on. As a pantser, when I get stuck, I go and revisit the foundational stuff, like motivations, backstory, etc. I firm them up and then I go back to writing. Voila.

  20. #45
    ... with the High Command Dave.C.Robinson's Avatar
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    I'm a bit of a mix - rough plots and pantsing my way through the writing.

    I do have character profiles for my current novel, but I'm writing the fifth in a series and my profiles are all the facts I've previously discovered about the characters in the previous four books.

    As for something unexpected, I'll do that deliberately to get myself out of a scene that feels too talky. Bang, something happens.


    Grasshopper, you too can master the ancient martial art of BIC FOK. (Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard.) Find me on Kindle: Against the Eldest Flame, the first Doc Vandal adventure; Amadar, a heroic fantasy adventure; Price of Imperium, space opera with a street-level twist.

  21. #46
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave.C.Robinson View Post
    I'm a bit of a mix - rough plots and pantsing my way through the writing.

    I do have character profiles for my current novel, but I'm writing the fifth in a series and my profiles are all the facts I've previously discovered about the characters in the previous four books.

    As for something unexpected, I'll do that deliberately to get myself out of a scene that feels too talky. Bang, something happens.
    I should probably make some kind of character sheets myself because I sometimes forget what my characters look like.

  22. #47
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    In my limited experience the pantser/plotter debate is something of a red herring in that it only seems to apply to how you start.

    I start out of order and have "target" scenes I write to, or write from, and plot around them.

    But eventually the MS gets to a point where you do have to structure (as plotters do) and write a little more wildly (as pantsers do). I can't see how structure is avoidable past a certain point.
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  23. #48
    ... with the High Command Dave.C.Robinson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwm4768 View Post
    I should probably make some kind of character sheets myself because I sometimes forget what my characters look like.
    I don't worry so much about appearance myself, I tend to be light on describing that. What matters to me is things like which languages certain characters speak or don't speak. Likes and dislikes, skill sets and importantly quirks.

    For example, Gilly loves reading pulp magazines - Gus loves Earl Grey tea. Vic plays solitaire with sharp-edged cards.


    Grasshopper, you too can master the ancient martial art of BIC FOK. (Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard.) Find me on Kindle: Against the Eldest Flame, the first Doc Vandal adventure; Amadar, a heroic fantasy adventure; Price of Imperium, space opera with a street-level twist.

  24. #49
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Not so. Some folk could be twelve chapters in and not have a clue what happens or what new character may appear in chapter thirteen.

    What it is is a debate that always reaches the same conclusion - we should each write our novel following whatever pattern or method works for us without asserting that method as the best or only way to write.

    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    In my limited experience the pantser/plotter debate is something of a red herring in that it only seems to apply to how you start.

    I start out of order and have "target" scenes I write to, or write from, and plot around them.

    But eventually the MS gets to a point where you do have to structure (as plotters do) and write a little more wildly (as pantsers do). I can't see how structure is avoidable past a certain point.
    Last edited by Bufty; 06-19-2017 at 03:37 PM.
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  25. #50
    ... with the High Command Dave.C.Robinson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    Not so. Some folk could be twelve chapters in and not have a clue what happens or what new character may appear in chapter thirteen.

    What it is is a debate that always reaches the same conclusion - we should each write our novel following whatever pattern or method works for us without asserting that method as the best or only way to write.
    I agree with you. I remember writing one novel and being almost done and still completely surprising myself with what happened in one scene. I had no clue it was going to happen until I wrote it.

    I like these threads because I love seeing how other people approach writing because just maybe there's a trick I can appropriate for my own mix of pantsing and plotting.


    Grasshopper, you too can master the ancient martial art of BIC FOK. (Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard.) Find me on Kindle: Against the Eldest Flame, the first Doc Vandal adventure; Amadar, a heroic fantasy adventure; Price of Imperium, space opera with a street-level twist.

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