Plotting vs Pantsing

For those who don’t know, plotting and pantsing are terms we novelists use to describe how we work on a story. Pantsers typically just take an idea and run with it and see where it takes them with minimal planning. They fly by the seat of their pants, if you will. Or, at least, that’s how I understand it. A plotter, though, plans out their story ahead of time, makes an outline of some sort, and then follows it while they’re writing. Some people, of course, fall somewhere in between.

Back in the day, during my undergrad years, I was a pantser. I don’t think I even considered plotting out a story. And so, I pantsed my way through the very first version of Rowan’s (first Enorians book) story, mostly while sitting in my Ancient World on Screen class, in the dark auditorium, as movies likes Alexander and Clash of the Titans played on the giant screen.

I also attempted, multiple times, to pants my way through the first version of Vivian’s (second Enorians book) story and failed every time. I never managed to make it to the end.

I stuck with being a pantser for years after that. In fact, I continued to flounder my way through Rowan’s story up until just over a year ago. Over the years since that first version, I pantsed my way through not one, but two rewrites. The first, I don’t remember well, but the second I wrote during 2019, and it came in at an insane 300,000 words, mostly because I didn’t know where I was going with it, so I’d just throw in scenes that I thought would be useful.

Turns out I was wrong.

It wasn’t until my amazing and wonderful writing buddy (who has here own website dedicated to her work here) told me about Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody that I even considered changing the way I was doing things. Save the Cat quite literally changed my life. I realized that while pantsing may work for some people, I am not one of those.

Writing has gotten so much easier since I started plotting, it’s kind of ridiculous.

It took me something like eight years to actually finish the first rewrite of Rowan’s story, and then it took me another full year to do the second rewrite. Neither of which were good or planned out well and felt like disorganized messes. I mean, part of what took me so long in finishing Rowan’s story was just not giving it the attention and time it needed, but I think the lack of structure and planning didn’t help.

The third rewrite, after using Save the Cat to create beat sheets for all the POVs and actually planning out the book, took me like five months. And Vivian’s story, which I hadn’t actually finished up until last year, took me six months to write after I plotted it out. To be fair, part of it being finished so quickly was because I ended up having two months off due to COVID, but still. If I’d been trying to pants my way through that, I never would’ve finished in that amount of time, nor would it have been anywhere near as solid of a first draft as it is.

I’m now a and a half chapter away from finishing the unintended Children of Oher, which means I’ll have written that in two months. If someone had told me ten years ago I’d write a nearly 90,000 word book in two months, I would’ve laughed so hard, but I did it. And the reason I could finish it so quickly is because I knew exactly where I was going with it. I am 100% certain that if I hadn’t sat down and created beat sheets and plotted out this book chapter by chapter before starting it, I wouldn’t be anywhere near this close to the end. And it would likely be a mess.

Photo by Alina Vilchenko on Pexels.com

I’m not saying everyone should be a plotter. What works for one person, doesn’t work for others. I know some people see plotting as restrictive – though, it’s not like you have to stick with the plot you came up with. The Children of Oher started as a 24-chapter outline. I added chapters where I needed them and changed some along the way, but overall it stayed relatively the same – and others say it ruins their motivation to work on the book because the story’s already figured out. I haven’t personally had that issue, but I can see where that would be true.

I don’t know, maybe I was just pantsing wrong? Maybe there is a right way to do it and I was not doing it that way. Or maybe it’s just that certain people can’t be pantsers, which, yeah, I now fully believe I am meant to be a plotter. But if you’re a pantser and you’re struggling, I highly recommend Save the Cat Writes a Novel, though I’m sure there are tons of other books out there about plotting your novel. Just try it and see how it goes, and if it doesn’t work for you, well, that’s okay, too.


What I wrote this week

Chapters twenty-five through twenty-seven of The Children of Oher

What I’m reading right now

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

The Last Revision by Sandra Scofield

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

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