Category Archives: Pantsers vs Plotters

Elaine Calloway graphic

Writing Styles Guide: 7 Tips For Pantzers

In what is turning into a series on plotters and pantzers, today's guest poster, Elaine Calloway, gives a writing styles guide of seven useful tips for pantzers to help them progress their writing, while not giving up their muse.

Writing Styles Guide | Plotters or Pantsters? Which Approach Works for You?

By Elaine Calloway

Elaine Calloway writing styles guide graphicWriters can often be seen lurking in one of two groups: the Plotters and the Pantsters.
Even if you’ve never heard of these terms, the writers in each camp are hard to miss.
Plotters tend to have color-coded charts, spreadsheets, outlines with key story points well-defined before ever typing a word on Page 1.

Pantsters are the opposite. They know their characters, have a vague idea of the story, but they prefer to write the story to find out where it will lead. Many times, a pantster will not even know the ending to the book until he/she writes it in the first draft.

These two polarized groups often debate amongst each other who is right, which method is best, etc. And bottom line, the writing method that works best for you is the one you should stick with. I have attended writing workshops where the instructor will tell the students that there is only one correct way to approach writing. If you come across this narrow-minded approach, Run. Run Fast. The best way to write is try various approaches, learn what works for you, and stick to it.

“Know your character’s goals”

So, today I would like to share what has worked for me. It’s a hybrid approach, using various techniques of both plotter and pantster. Over the course of ten manuscripts, I have come to realize this approach helps me move forward without writing myself into a corner.

  1. Know your character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts before you sit down to write. This is an imperative step, no matter what kind of writer you consider yourself to be. The things your character wants, the back-story as to why the character will forsake fear to achieve these things, and the conflicts to be faced is key to story structure.

    To use a Wizard of Oz example, Dorothy wants to find the wizard (goal) so she can get home (motivation) but the evil witch and other obstacles (conflicts) stand in the way of meeting that goal.

    Deb Dixon wrote a book titled GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) which explains these key attributes and how they relate to your story. By knowing what your character wants and why, you can set up blocks to him/her meeting that goal.

  2. Know your setting. Can you imagine Gone with the Wind being set along the surfer coastline in California? Scarlett O’Hara saying, “There’s always tomorrow, dude.”

    No. Such a thought is ridiculous. The South *makes* that book work. Setting can not only enhance your book’s feel, it can become a character, something that contributes essential parts to the story. Some authors who have used setting well are Pat Conroy (South Carolina coast), Stephen King (Maine), and Dennis Lehane (Boston).

  3. Know a few plot turning points. As a pantster myself, I find this step difficult to do, but I have found that brainstorming with friends ahead of time is a great way to come up with a few routes for your story.
    “Find a good writing partner”

    Note: This does not mean your plot is written in stone! You can stick to the plot points you come up with, or you can toss them aside for new ones. The point is to give yourself a general roadmap. You can always change course! Don’t panic and think that any pre-existing plot point ties you down. It is meant to help, not hinder. The magic of being a pantster is all those surprises you encounter when writing. You still can, but have a few backups in case you get stuck.

  4. Find a good writing partner to help you brainstorm. Whether the person is a plotter or a pantster, getting someone you trust to give you feedback, kick around ideas, is a great exercise and it frees your mind.

    I have an ideal set up. I am a pantster, my writing buddy is a plotter. So between the both of us, we are able to brainstorm and help each other. She helps me when I get stuck and need plot point ideas; I help her when she needs something more spontaneous than color-coded plot points. It’s a win-win. That’s what you want in a writing support group or friend.

  5. Remember that after your first draft is done, go back and polish! I heard a saying once, one I have never forgotten. This analogy has helped me in writing:
    • The first draft: You’re walking through the woods and cutting a path. The trees are tall, the shrubs are thick, and you don’t really know where you are going.
    • The second draft: You’re sitting on top of a large rock. You can see the path you’ve made; you have some perspective from the height of the boulder you’re sitting on.
    • The third draft: You’re sitting at the top of a tall tree. Now you can see more paths, curves, and escape routes than ever before. Your perspective allows you to see patterns, make updates, and see which route is best.
  6. Always write the next book! Once you finish one book and either submit to a traditional publisher or indie pub the book, your next step is to work on the next book!
  7. Some people use music when they write. I find that creating a “playlist” for each book helps me. Songs relate to the emotion, the characters, and the tone of each book. Which songs remind you of your characters? Include those first, and add/remove other songs as you write the book. This helps put me into the mindset of the story, therefore improving my writing speed.

    “Anything that helps to inspire is what works best”

    For those who prefer silence, that is fine too. Maybe place a special token or item on your desk that reminds you of your setting, your characters, etc. Anything that helps to inspire is what works best.

And remember, whether you’re a plotter, pantster, or hybrid of both--the main thing is to get the book completed, in a way that works for YOU. Thanks!

Elaine Calloway is the author of The Elemental Clan series, available on Amazon.

Anything that gets us to the writing desk, actually writing rather than procrastinating, is valuable beyond measure. Thank you very much for this writing styles guide, Elaine.

You Pantzers out there, how do you bring structure to your writing process? Share your thoughts in the comments below - and share with your friends, too!

Headshot - Catherine McLean pantsers vs plotters

Outlining vs Chaos: the Pantser vs Plotter Dilemma

I have a tendency to just sit and write, developing a mind map as I go in order to keep track of characters and events. Is that how Pantsers work? In this post on how to be an author, Catherine McLean outlines the differences between Pantsers and Plotters, giving us a clear insight into the technical side of writing.

Which are you? Give your reactions to this article in the comments below.

Outlining or Chaos: the Pantser vs Plotter Dilemma

by Catherine E McLean

Headshot - Catherine McLean pantsers vs plotters Of the ten types of story-generation styles I've been able to discover, most people only know of the top two: The Pantser and The Plotter. Most writers start out as Pantsers. I think this is due to the "artsy" concept that creativity and inspiration are "The Force" behind a work of fiction and to let it flow. Embrace the Muse. Put your butt in the chair, hands on the keyboard, and write, write, write. Unfortunately, the down side is that the Muse doesn't always cooperate and so writer's block sets in or the trite and cliched appears on the page.

As to the linear-thinkers, those Plotters expound on the virtues of plotting, delineation of characters, and calculating every aspect of the story. Many go into such detail that, by the time they are ready to write, they have lost interest in the story. After all, they know it from beginning to end in detail, minute detail, so why write it.

But there is more to the Pantser and the Plotter dilemma

[pullquote]The Pantser is driven by inspiration[/pullquote] (the Muse). A Pantser may have an instinctive grasp of story from extensive reading of well-told stories, but they are clueless to the techniques, the underpinnings and technical aspects of plotting, or what makes a story work for a reader. Most don't want to learn craft, thinking it stifles creativity. In reality, craft liberates and provides possibilities.

A Pantser is also easily sidetracked while writing and will find they've gone off on tangents, digressed, filled pages with back story and back histories. Sadly, the Pantser also believes none of their darling words or characters should be changed or cut.

Then, too, the Pantser is often wrapped up in enjoying the high that comes from creating and the excitement of not knowing what will happen next. Which leads to characters stumbling into situations unprepared, or without motivation or a clear goal, let alone a way out of the situation. What the Pantser fails to grasp is that the first solution or idea that popped into their mind is likely contrived, corny, cliched, trite, or unrealistic (unbelievable).

And when a Pantser discovers a problem, their energy wanes. After all, solving the problem means rewriting, which is time-consuming, hard work, and boring. So why bother. Then, too, whenever the enthusiasm wanes, the Pantser tends to move on to a new story to re-stoke the "high" of creativity. Which means, stories never get completed.

The Pantser then bemoans their Muse not cooperating or secretly fears the Muse has abandoned them.

Now, as to the Plotter? The Plotter has a need, a desire, for assurance that things are orderly and accounted for. The Plotter analytically understands story structure and uses "plotting tools" like forms, questionnaires, cheat sheets, a project bible—whatever works—to develop an idea into a full-blown story. The Plotter uses craft techniques in order to better their stories and maintain control of the Muse and its output.

[pullquote]The Plotter takes advantage of plot boards[/pullquote] to weigh solutions for scenes and goals, thus preventing the protagonist falling into traps unprepared and unmotivated — and insuring there is a way out of the situation.

Most plotters plod along, unafraid of losing momentum or of losing elements that make for great conflict, which saves the Plotter energy and time in rewriting and polishing because the first draft is five or six times better than a Pantser's. That is, if the Plotter actually does write the draft.

In all honesty, most of the Pantsers I've met believe structure is sterilizing, boring, and stifles creativity. And I have met Plotters who never allow their Muse out of the shackles and cage they keep them in.

Producing Authors

The reality is that there are many great, tightly structured novels by producing authors. Emphasis on producing. So, what's their secret? It's this: producing authors have a system and habits that work for them and which have enabled them to consistently produce story after story. Here's a home truth: what works for one writer won't work for others. Why? Because writers are individuals. Any "system" must be tailored for the individual, their relationship with their Muse, and the talent, desire, and perseverance to achieve specific writing goals.

However, what a lot of newbie writers fail to grasp is that [pullquote]creativity can benefit from some structure[/pullquote]. And, yes, it's okay to take advantage of outlines, plot patterns, a "project bible," or forms as long as the writer tailors them for themselves and doesn't get carried to extremes by using such documentation. It's about realizing the shortcomings of the current story-generating method and compensating for them that truly works. Think of it as blending a pantser's inspiration to a plotter's need to know what and where and why. Thus structuring creativity isn't smothering the Muse but brings order to the chaos the Muse revels in and still provides the creation "high."

So, if you've been having problems with producing story drafts in a timely fashion or you desire to be a producing writer, why not consider blending logic and creativity to make your writing blossom?

Catherine writes "Women's Starscape Fiction" because she likes a story where characters are real people facing real dilemmas, and where their journey (their adventure-quest, with or without a romance) is among the stars and solar systems, and where there's always a satisfying ending. You can find her books on Amazon here.

A most interesting and informative article, Catherine - thank you very much!

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