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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Plotting Vs. Pantsing

If you're new to the writing and publishing game, you've probably heard a lot about this "plotting versus pantsing" business and wondering what the heck we're all talking about. In essence, we're describing two different ways of writing a story: plotting, which is sitting down and outlining all the events of your story before you begin drafting it, and pantsing, which is when you have a basic concept and then you just let your typin' fingers take you wherever your imagination leads.

I have written (and by that, I mean COMPLETED) two "pants" novels and one "plotted" novel. When I first began writing, pantsing was what came most naturally to me. I usually come to a story when one character, or one concept, pops into my head. What I usually did at that point was to just start writing, without any thought for where I might end up.

When I wrote my most recent novel, however, I realized that path wasn't going to cut it for me. First, because my second novel had taken me TWO YEARS to finish, and that was when I had the luxury of living a student's lifestyle. Second, I ended up cutting 1/3 of the novel, just because (as much fun as it was to write) I tended to launch into tangents (which, of course, I didn't realize were tangents at the time).
So why did I switch to plotting for novel No. 3?

As an attorney, there was no way I was going to be able to just write whenever. Most days I come home intellectually drained. I might be able to read a book, but usually all I have in me is to watch some TV or take my dog to the park. If I were going to pants my novels in that state, I suspect it would take me a lot longer than two years (and involve significantly more cutting).

So I sat down with an outline like the one described in Save The Cat and plotted out my third book. And you know what? It didn't always feel right to me to do that. But I stuck with that method, and ... it worked. For that book, it was actually sort of perfect. From the moment I figured out what I wanted to write about until the day I put the final period on the final sentence, only 11 months had passed. After two months of revisions, I was ready to start submitting it.

Pantsing and plotting both have strengths and weaknesses. When I was pansting, it took me a long time to draft and even longer to revise. But when I was plotting, there were times when I felt like the "spark" in my writing was missing. (I'll talk more about what to do when that happens later.) Ultimately, though, all that really matters is whether or not your chosen method results in a final product.

Now, are there overlap between the two methods? DEFINITELY! With my current project (which I am plotting), I realized halfway through that a character was missing. So I added him in! After all, an outline is just a tool, not a contract. 

What you need to do is honestly evaluate yourself. Do you feel more comfortable writing when you know where things are going, or do you feel more comfortable when you are just letting your imagine run rampant? Once you've figured that out, ask yourself whether this particular project will benefit from the alternative method. 

In my heart, I'm still a pantser. But at this point in my life, plotting is the way to go.

I will be the first one to tell you that if you are a natural born pantser, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. We all have to write in the way that feels most natural to us.

This post was generously written by RuthAnne Snow. RuthAnne is a lawyer and aspiring writer. She lives in an old house with a little dog and a big porch. She blogs at Follow her on twitter @ruthanne_snow and facebook at

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