Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Are You a Pantser or a Plotter?

If you’ve been around the writing world for any time at all, you’ve probably heard about the great debate of panster vs. plotter. If you’ve never been asked if you’re a pantser or a plotter, you might be new to writing. And no, we’re not talking about pulling someone’s pants down. We’re talking about how writers approach their writing. Do you plan? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
Writers who write by the seat of their pants are called pantsers.


In the 1930s, pilots coined the term “fly by the seat of your pants,” which likely originated in the UK since there are several instances of this American idiom that have been known to use the word “trousers,” which is totally a British thing. 

Basically, it came about right around the time that instrument panels started to become a thing for airplanes. But most pilots of the era flew airplanes with little to no instrument panels. They had to fly “blind” and to use their gut instincts to fly by the seat of their pants. 

In writing, this means that a writer just writes. It’s an adventure to see where they end up. They trust their gut, and just go with it. In essence, they are flying by the seat of their pants, hence the term “pantser”. They don’t have a fancy instrument panel to help guide the journey (a plot outline). They may not even know how the story is going to end. And that’s okay too.


A writer who claims to be a plotter is someone who loves outlining every last detail. They know what scenes are in each chapter. They might have a character worksheet filled out for each of their characters and know how the book will end. Perhaps it’s one way to counteract the fear of writer’s block

Pantsers claim that plotters have no fun. Plotters claim that pantsers will take 10 years to finish a book. There’s no right or wrong way to approach your writing. While plotters may take more time up front to plan the book, pantsers take more time on the back end with revisions. Either way, it still takes about the same amount of time to write a book and get your story straight.

Can You Be Both?

In recent years, a new term has been coined: a “plantser”. That’s a writer who takes a middle-of-the-road approach. I like to call them planners. Basically, it’s someone who starts with the end in mind, has a couple of main characters, and generally works through the plot ahead of time, but not down to the last detail of every chapter and every scene. 

Being a planner (or plantser) is my favorite approach. You get the best of both worlds. Because when you plot out your five main plot points, you’re posting your milestones out ahead of time and you always know what’s coming next. Yes, even the ending. And since you’re not planning every last detail, you’re free to explore different pathways to get to your next milestone, keeping the fun aspect fully alive. 

After all, isn’t that what keeps a writer going… the fact that we actually enjoy it? So, if planning out the basic story structure of your novel is helpful to keep the fun factor alive (while also being organized and helping you feel a little bit in control), then let’s do THAT all day long! 

QUESTION: If you had to choose one or the other, what side do you lean a little closer to? Are you 100% pantser or 100% plotter? I’m 85% plotter. What about you? Let me know in the comments!

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