The Great Writing Debate

*UPDATE! I am incredibly honored to have been chosen as an Honorable Mention in Weronika Janczuk’s First Line Contest. Click here to check out the winners and other honorable mentions.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?



14 thoughts on “The Great Writing Debate

  1. I’m both. Usually I get an idea for a story and a first line. Then I’ll sketch out the idea of the story, what the goal is, maybe a few major points (two characters fall in love, two become besties, one dies, revelation about X etc.) but other than that skeleton of framework, it’s off the cuff. I’ll dive right in and start writing. If I think of other things to do with plot or get ideas then I’ll go back and add them into my ‘outline’ but that’s about all I do. Occasionally I’ll write a sort of synopsis first, if I happen to get an idea that’s very detailed throughout.

    As for why I’m like this. I couldn’t really say. Originally, I was 100% panster. But the more I began writing with the goal of publication, the more I understood that I had to be able to discipline myself in the manner in which I produced, just in case something crazy happened like, you know, succeeding at getting published. That way I’d have a little structure if anyone ever actually expected something like second or third or continuing books from me. So I started forcing myself to plot ideas out BEFORE I dove into them. And I liked it. With outlines, it’s also easier to work on multiple things at once. By structuring one part of my creativity, I can let the rest of it out on a looser rein. Flipflopping WIPs, for example. And now that I’ve practiced (and continue to practice) at focusing my whims instead of letting them fly all over, I could easily buckle down on one project, should anyone ask me to.

    And btw… SQUEE for you over at the Dark and Stormy contest Christi! SQUEE!!! 😀 You go on with your bad self!

    • A,

      Thanks so much for the well-wishes on the contest! I gasped and squealed with glee when I saw my name this morning. Couldn’t believe it!

      I am a reformed pantster. I started off just writing whatever struck my fancy and sounded fun. Then, I found myself with a BUNCH of really great scenes that had no connection to each other in any way. It took FOREVER to connect them and pull out some sort of plot and storyline that was any good.

      It was at that moment I became a plotster 🙂

      Keep watching my blog because I’m in the process of making a “plot board” where I keep track of the storyline, themes, entire storyline, and all subplots. Complete with sticky notes, notecards, different highlighters showing me the plot path to the end, and bunches of other goodies.

      Of course I’ll share my end result, and all the struggles I have in creating the board.


  2. Both. My first draft I’m a pantser, following drafts I’m a plotter. Most of the time. Sometimes in the editing stage, the subconscious takes over and sees things I had not. Thus far in my writing life, the first draft has always flowed out without thought, so I’ve never had to plot or interfere. That’s what ediiting is about, for me.

    The first time I saw this word panster, i had no idea what it meant – i still find it an odd word. lol.

    • Jennifer,

      I’m totally with you on having to look up the word “pantster”. Sounds weird to me too 🙂

      Check out my comment to Artemis above to see my reformation from pantser to plottster.

      Even though I like a plan, I still follow every bright and shiny plot change my subconsious throws at me. I find those are the best ones!

      Thanks for stopping by,

  3. Ditto on both. I do the first draft “panster” without stopping to second guess. Then go back and begin to “plot” all my changes, improvements, etc. Hey, this was a loop in my RWA-WF chapter for two days last week. Great question 🙂

    Congrats to you on the First Sentence at Dark and Stormy Night. I love that sentence 🙂

    • Florence,

      I was so surprised to see my name this morning! Thanks for the well-wishes.

      Check out my comment to A to see what happened when I operated in “pantster mode”.

      Since you are like me and track all your stuff, I think you’ll like my plot board post. I still have to make the board, but I’ll be updating the entire way and then when it’s done I’ll post lots of pictures.

      Happy Monday!


  4. I’m a pantser. I’ve tried to be a plotter but every time I planned, I found I never followed the trail. I always discovered things about my characters on the journey that made the plotter’s work useless. For me, the only things I know when I start a novel is where my characters begin and where they end up. How they get from point A to point B is anyone’s guess.

    And that is the fun of writing a novel; my characters lead me by the collar not the other way around.


    • Diana,

      I’m really curious about something from your comment.

      You wrote that you don’t know how you get from A to B, but I wonder if you really know your characters before you start writing? As in, do you do all the character analysis sheets, etc… before you start?

      I’d love to hear back on this…


  5. No, I don’t do character sketches before I start. I have an idea of what the characters are like, but I don’t really get to know them until they start ‘performing’ for me. For instance, I was on chapter ten or eleven before I realised one of my characters was raised in an orphanage. It just came out of his mouth while I was writing dialogue. He wasn’t the main character but a side kick to the main character. When I thought about what he’d said, it made sense. I was writing him that way all along. I just didn’t know it.

    How this comes about is because I’ll ask myself: What can I add to build conflict and/or drama?

    To do this, I start asking questions about the characters involve in a scene. What if this happened? Or that? If I were so-and-so, what would I do? If he was asked to do this, given his character traits, what would his answer be. Would he — just this once — do what he normally wouldn’t do? If so, what are the consequences?

    In my current work in progess — Shadows in the Stone — I began writing the novel from the perspective of the child, but by the fourth chapter, I realised it was really the male character’s story.

    HOWEVER: Once I get deep into a story, I have character sheets on hand to note anything of importance: hair and eye colour, hand dominance, notable scars and character traits, family relations, etc. It makes it easier to quickly check these facts.

    AND: At some point in the novel writing process, I write a short story for the main characters or ones I need to know better. It’s around 3,000 words long and is about a turning point in their life. Through these stories — that take place before the novel — I get to know the characters intimately.

    I don’t write them all at once, only when the need strikes.

  6. Diana,

    Wow does your process sound amazing! And very dedicated to the craft of writing!

    I don’t start with a character sheet either. Like you, I’ve found that while I work my way through each draft I get to know each character a bit better. They just reveal themselves to me 🙂

    Then, when I’m about on draft 2 or 3 I stop and write everything down I know about the character, and flesh out all the unknowns.

    Thanks again for the great info!


  7. Hi Christi,

    I am both – plotter or a pantser. I’ve always had some kind of an outline on the ups and downs a main character will take in a story. In my head and sometimes on paper, I imagine what the character looks like (sometimes I see the full character in my head so I can jot down what I see), and what kind of a person they are. For each story idea I have, I have a brief outline and each has own file folder, so when something else comes to me, I can add the extra information to the file. Then when I am ready to begin something new I have a whole bunch of information ready and waiting.

    When writing my first novel though, it began to take on a life of its own and I just started to write and pushed the outline aside. Every couple of chapters I would look back at it to see how far I was off track, if at all. What ended up happening is that I created new scenes, clues, drama and questions (more story to insert in the initial outline) which I was able to wrap up together in the final chapters. It was quite the adventure.


    • Karen,

      Thank you so much for visiting!

      I’m finding lots of people are a mixture of both types. They start out with a free-flow of characters and plot ideas and then move to solidifying the details.

      With all the comments on this post I’m really looking forward to my upcoming series on plot boards. I’ve got two guests lined up to give their take on things. Should be interesting!


    • Meghan,

      I hope all is well with your writing and thanks for the congrats :). The last few days have been a whirlwind of activity, and fun, for me.

      Check out the plot board series coming up the second week of March. I think you’ll like it 🙂

      Thanks for visiting,

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