“Pantsers and plotters” is a shorthand phrase used by writers to describe their process in creating a story. Plotters are the ones who prepare an extensive outline, chapter by chapter, sometimes scene by scene, before beginning to write the story. They have already worked out the plot, the twists, the climax and the conclusion before writing that first sentence. Plotters are organized, efficient and highly productive people.
I’m not a plotter.
Pantsers, or those who fly by the seat of their pants, or, more elegantly, “fly into the mists” have an idea about a story, they sort of know who the characters are and they’re pretty sure what the ending is. After that, they’re flying blind. Pantsers like to think they are free-spirits, creative, inspired and original. In my case, what that means is, hair-tearing re-writes, dozens of cut scenes, tortuous back-tracking to create plausible motivations, and a lot of staring out the window wondering what should happen next.
For my latest work, I tried to be more like a plotter. I wrote a whole notebook full of scenes I confidently believed would appear in the final story, once I got down to organizing them into a reasonable time-line. With the notebook full, I turned to a fresh page and wrote the first sentence, and the second. This was going really well, I was on page two when the story took a twist I’d never envisioned in my preparations. I was excited. This twist really added to the story, it gave another layer to three of the characters. Wow! I was rolling.
Only trouble is, all those scenes I wrote before, don’t really fit the new direction. My attempt to be efficient, was a waste.
Or was it? The truth is, whether any of those pre-writing scenes make it into the final version, doesn’t matter. The notebook full of imagined dialogue and action, gave me the characters. I know about them. I know their backstories. I can predict how they will act in a crisis. I know the story-setting. I know the secondary characters. I know the time of year and the time of history. I’m excited to tell their story. The fact that I’m not certain how that story unfolds, makes me even more excited. Like a reader, I want to know what happens next.
Writing should be fun. If you’re a plotter, more power to you. If, like me, you’re a pantser, enjoy the journey. It’s going to be a wild ride.