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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Words on Wednesday: Why I'm a Plotter

I could never be a pantser. For me, it's plotting all the way - and here's why:

I'm a control freak
I'm not the kind of person who can head out for a walk without knowing where they're going, and it's just the same in my writing. I know pantsers often say it's boring to write when you already know where you're going, but for me, it's too risky to head off without a road map.

I like the step-by-step approach
For me, plotting first breaks the writing into two stages: coming up with ideas, and expressing them as clearly as possible. I'm aware of using different skills at the different stages - and of course, the editing that follows is different again.

I'm the anxious type
Having a plan first allows me to check the idea works as a whole before starting, saving me from excess worry.

I'm used to working this way
It's how I've written essays and non-fiction for years, so feels quite natural to me. I'm really not saying this is the way to write - I wouldn't dare suggest there is a definitive way! The key is knowing what suits you, I think. I have done 'pantsing' in the past and just feel that, for me, it wastes too much time and the uncertainty - about the project as a whole, the destination and the route - is stressful rather than exciting to me.

I tend to spend longer plotting than writing the first draft, with character notes on index cards and different degrees of plot outlines. I also like to include word count targets for different sections to keep me on track. Again, that's something that came from essay and dissertation writing. I've always tended to find it hard to write enough words, so using interim word count targets is something I started doing to help me.

Do you plan? Or are you an adrenaline-fuelled pantser?

I wrote this post in September 2011 and am republishing it now as it still holds true. I've tried a NaNoWriMo in the meantime, with a bit of a plan but far less than usual and it didn't work at all. I tried to be more spontaneous and just focus on the messy first draft, I really did, but I'm just meant to be a plotter :) Original commenters: if you're still reading, do you still feel the same?


  1. I've tried both. One story, I started with a line for the beginning, and let the story run. I got to the end, but I think it needs some major re-writes to actually turn it into a decent story.

    When I did NaNo last year, knowing what sort of deadline I would be on, I decided I needed a plan and general plotline for the entire novel - sort of a road map, so I knew where I was going. It worked beautifully! That's not to say the story still doesn't need some work, but it helped me think about motivations and history, and a pile of other stuff that (I think) helped make the finished story better.

    The result of this is: I plan.

  2. I think I fall somewhere in the middle, these days. I used to definitely be a pantser, but would find my stories running off in all kinds of directions. Now I draft a rough outline of the story (changing it as I go) and quite detailed character profiles, and I find this helps enormously.

    I keep on hearing a lot of writers saying they use index cards, cork boards, etc, but if I did they'd probably end up in a jumble all over the place. I prefer to do all my planning on the computer - so I can easily refer to it when writing.

    I completely agree with your point about pantsing wasting a lot of time - I think if we have even a rough idea of the direction we're going in, it's so much easier to get there.

  3. Hi,

    I hold my hand up - I'm a panster, and with short stories its never been a problem, but now I'M writing a novel, I realize its too much to write 90k words without a proper plan.

    I've sought advice from other writers on twitter and in real life, and have had lots of different suggestions on how to sort things out.

    I ended up summarising the chapters I'd written so far, and now I'm filling in the blanks between as far as I got, and the end!

    Next time, I'll know better. ;-) She says...

  4. I'm doing this revision by the seat of my pants, but the other thing I've got planned is plotted to the nth degree, I just haven't written a word of it yet!


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