Plotters vs. Pantsers (following the white rabbit)

With the writing of my newest book, I’ve been pondering the merits between plotters and pantsers.

If you are unfamiliar with the terms, plotters are writers who plot everything out, sometimes down to every minute detail. I’ve heard of some even having these big story boards with graphs and charts to keep track of each chapter, character, and plot twist. These are the type A’s of the writing world. I imagine them like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.


Must… figure out… character motivation.

Pantsers on the other hand are known for writing by the seat of their pants. They may jump into a book with very little idea where they plan to steer the story, preferring to just dive in and see what happens or where the characters lead them. Perhaps ending up going in a completely different direction then they originally thought. I would picture them more like Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus.


Let’s go on an adventure!

Both of these styles have pros and cons. A plotter may write the story quickly and efficiently ¬†because they have it all thought out in advance, while a pantser’s story may come slowly as they work through it and go with where the story leads.

However, a plotter’s story may seem more predictable, or less exciting because they haven’t left room for anything unexpected to happen while a pantser’s story may be full of twists and mystery, because the author themselves didn’t know where it was going to end up. They are able to chase every little white rabbit and see if it takes them to a magical new world. Sometimes these white rabbits pay off, but other times they lead to a dead end which then needs to be cut or edited resulting in a lot of wasted time.

Most writers probably fall somewhere between these two categories, and that’s great! Maybe they write a killer plot, but are also able to re-direct if it just isn’t working for them, or they may think of something new along the way and are able to add that in.

Personally, I am a horrible plotter, and sometimes I wish I could incorporate a little more planning, but it just doesn’t come easy for me. I admire those who can plan.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been working hard on my novella Aviarium. I wanted it to be about 20,000 words total so I could get it out there quickly, but I’m already at 18,000 and the story feels like it’s maaaybe at the halfway point. That’s if I keep in pretty skeletal and don’t go back an add detail. So you see, lack of planning can be a problem, especially if you have deadlines looming.

Mostly, I’m okay with it though. I have more fun writing things as they come and letting the story take on a life of it’s own. For me, it keeps things exciting. Plus my characters are headstrong and wouldn’t stand to be bossed around anyway.

As in life, I’d much rather take a chance and see what possibilities lie ahead. If you don’t occasionally follow that white rabbit with the pocket watch, you might miss out on something magical around the next bend.

Alice and the Rabbit, from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), English children's writer and mathematician




2 thoughts on “Plotters vs. Pantsers (following the white rabbit)

  1. Elaine Emilia Cox says:

    I can definitely see merits to both approaches, and draw backs! You can use excessive plotting as a way to feel like you’re writing, when really you are just procrastinating and avoiding actually writing (not speaking from personal experience or anything…). Then again, I wrote almost an entire draft before I realized I didn’t really know my main character’s motivation. When I stopped and figured it out and figured out the story I really wanted to tell, I basically had to start over. It felt like 50,000 words wasted. But then again, could I have found the story without that?

    I think you can plot something to death and lose its vitality for sure. Plus, rabbit holes can be fun and reveal things you never thought of before. With either approach you have to put in the time to tame and shape the project, cutting out and filling in. Maybe it’s just that plotters shape more in pre-writing and pantsers shape at the end?


  2. Carolyn M. Walker says:

    Great post! I’d say I am more of a plotter. I love to plan things out and keep an organized set of notes for each character and important plot points, etc. I’m not much of a risk-taker, when it comes to pantser methods. I wish I were because then it would probably be more exciting if I just let the pen hit the paper and see what happens. I will say though, that many times while writing within my organized plot plan I tend to get carried away and sometimes things develop. And I have noticed that despite all my great planning and preparation, some of the best scenes in my stories have been those “runaway” ones!



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