Which Pants Are You Wearing?

Okay, so I’m not talking about clothes. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

Are you a pantser, or a plotter?

Translation: Do you write by the seat of your pants, with no plan, or do you outline and plot your project?

I used to be a pantser, but over time, became a plotter. As my writing evolved, so did I.

Have you ever taken a walk on the other side of the fence?

The debate about whether it’s best to outline, or not, often becomes heated. Anything so integral to our writing becomes intensely personal, with about as much emotion involved as debates over various child-rearing techniques. So “heated” is a gross understatement.

The point is, everyone thinks their way is best. Several writers, all using the same approach, will each individualize that method until it becomes their own, each finding what works best for them. And once we find something that works, we stick to it, sometimes to the point where writing becomes highly ritualized. Outlines longer than the finished book. Successive drafts in different colors or fonts. One particular location. A certain shirt. Hey, if it works, use it.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

I’m issuing a challenge. The goal is to adapt and expand as a writer.

If you’re a plotter:  Choose a plot question. A What-if? scenario. Something like… What if an angel fell in love with a serial killer?

Once you have your question, without any further thought, start writing. Don’t make any notes. Don’t think any further ahead than the end of the current scene. When you reach the end of the scene, start a new one, no notes, no thought.

If you’re a pantser: Choose your plot question, as above. Before you start writing, name two characters and decide their roles in your scenario. Write down one major, and one minor conflict. Begin with inciting incidents, the course of the conflict, and the resolution, with a minimum of one sentence to summarize each. Then write your story.

Whether you end up with a short story, or a novella, or even a whole novel, maybe you’ll have a few new tools in your repertoire. And just maybe, you’ll find something to add to your current technique that will help you be a better writer. Hell, maybe you’ll even have a little fun.


Are you a pantser, a plotter, or something in between?


14 responses to “Which Pants Are You Wearing?

  1. I am a firm fence straddler which requires a sturdy material for pants because you never know what the day will produce: hurricane fence, wood, or barbed wire. A writer must be prepared. I’ll digress…I used to straight pants it. There were these few pivotal plot points I had stuck in my mind and I’d work toward them. Then I heard a small press wanted short novellas. So, I jumped on the wagon (seemed more comfortable than riding fence) only to realize the new game involved writing a proposal (i.e. short outline). OMG! You’re kidding right? Because I didn’t have any kind of tools on me like wire cutters or chainsaw. Like I had to THINK up he story first? Well, I decided I’d just have to do it. Why not? I already had the key object associated with the story stuck in my mind–a motorcycle. And since I could care less about motorcycles and already had some turning points envisioned I decided to give the proposal a shot.

    What I LEARNED (Kicking and Screaming, i.e. the Hard Way)

    It’s so much nicer to write a short outline up front. I’m not saying plot out every chapter or scene. You’re not writing for Sparknotes.com. No. You’re planning all the parts of the hero’s (heroine’s) journey for your story–the key internal changes associated with all the external stimulus that keep your story moving toward THE END. This outline can be one or two pages long. It can turn into a lovely little modifiable synopsis when you’re finished with the rough draft. And, for Pete’s sake, it isn’t written in stone. But it sure saved my arse from a metaphorical hot waxing when I already began a story with characters who had internal problems that I was aware of and geared toward solving aside from something big and looming–external like the sun is going to go supernova or the bank is foreclosing on the farm. Those things just kick your characters in the teeth and make them pull up their big boy/girl pants and leap through the burning hoops you dangle before them. And in no way are those tortures or is that character growth written in stone. It’s your right to change them. And by gholly, they’re going to change because you really don’t know your characters or can’t predict the corners lurking in your story world that you painted yourself into until you start slapping down story word-by-word on your keyboard…So, don’t get all flustered. A short outline is all about a little characterization up front and planning out your main characters’ goals. Boom. Done. You have a little shell of a story house to work with. You know which rooms are important! That’s what I learned. And I have so many stories in my head now that I find I don’t even have to write these outlines down now. I can’t write fast enough and mentally have stories plotted enough to plop down and type when there’s time. *wink*

    What My Last Paragraph Means in the Long Run…

    If I don’t plan out the characters’ internal issues and growth, there won’t be any. I will be reworking that story until the cows come home when I sit down to write the synopsis. It’s far easier to spend a day crunching the what-will-happen(s) here and there to get from point A to Z. So, do I want to pay the piper up front and write the short synopsis that is easily modified as the story unfolds in the rough draft? You betcha. I don’t want to have to rework every dang scene to make certain my character doesn’t look scatterbrained. And I don’t want to be working as story surgeon trying to save a Frankenstein. Because, trust me, my first babies were all Frankensteins. That so doesn’t mean marketable. They should have been in a holding pen behind barbed-wire fencing no right-minded author wants to straddle! So, if you’re still pulling your hair out trying to wrangle a story and its synopsis for what seems like forever, try writing a little quickie outline up front before you write the next one of your babies! Just tell everyone you decided to straddle a fence if they get all weird and stare at you like you have spiders crawling out of your nose. IT’s human nature for people to want you to do what they do (look at me–the human–telling you to follow in my footsteps). We humans prefer everyone to follow our rules and let us be in control. It’s so empowering. *smile*

    But, I’ll leave with one of my critique partner’s favorite saying…”Do what’s right for you!” (Oh, that hurt!)

    • LOL, Skhye! I spent nearly 2 years writing my first weredragon story – the only reason I’m not STILL fooling with it is because a friend twisted my arm until I Snowflaked it. He got tired of my tales of woe over not being able to get anywhere.

      I started the next one with a Snowflake, but it didn’t quite work the way I wanted. I modified and modified some more, until I came up with what I do now, which is pretty extensive outline. With each new story, it evolves a little more.

      But seriously, Girl. Be careful with that fence thing! You might damage something important!

  2. I’m never easy and thought of myself as a pantsing plotter… I have every good intention of plotting and then fly by the seat of my pants. Just touching lightly every once in a while on my outline…

  3. Im somewhere between a Pantser and a Plotter. I like to have a brief outline and the basics of my main character but then I let my characters do what they like. I then go over my work and ask the What If questions to make it better. Maybe for someone like me, the challenge could be to write something using both methods and see what the difference would be? I think it could be an interesting way of seeing how your technique has evolved.
    Im enjoying your blog and look forward to reading more.

  4. I’m actually both. I start out pantsing it until I have some sense of the story. Then, I get to a point where it’s logical to lay out a road map to get me through to the end, lest I wander off down the wrong trail and get lost.

    I hate the idea of an outline at the beginning, however, because it just seems to suck the life/fun/excitement/creativity out of the process. I enjoy letting the story and characters tell me about themselves at the outset.

    • Hi Lane! I’ve seen a lot of pantsers complain that plotting/outlining takes all the life out of the story for them before they get a chance to write it. I can’t help thinking that if it does, they’re doing something wrong with the outline, LOL. But that’s just because I’ve found a way to plot that keeps the story fresh for me, I’m sure. As Skhye said above, it’s human nature to want others to do things our way. :0)

  5. Started as total pantser, now I’m probably something in between, with a loose outline and lots of improvisation. Unless I’m writing an historical novel, where you need facts to be correct, historical figures to be faithful to what we know of them, etc. Then I’m a plotter! But I’ve written only one historical novel so far…

    • Hi Barb! I think that combination is probably the most common. I’ve talked to a couple of writers who thought they were total pantsers, but after really thinking about it, they realized they kept a loose, organic, and mobile outline in their head.

  6. I’m kinda in the middle. I start out with an idea. I chose names, location, and a general idea of how it will begin, and end. Then I start to write. I keep a list of character names as I write, adding them as they appear in the story to keep track of them. I find my ideas of what happens next come to me as I write. A character will say something or do something or think something that nudges me in a direction. About halfway through, I’ll do a loose outline of how it will get from there to the end, but most times, I go off into a different direction anyway.

    • Hi Callie! That’s pretty similar to what I do with short stories. I can’t do anything like that for novel length, though. I’d have 300k words, and a big bunch of random tangents, with no plot and no ending, LOL.

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