If you’ve spent any amount of time in the writing world, you’re probably aware of the plotting vs pantsing debate. Most writers say they don’t exclusively do one or the other, yet the debate persists. “Plotting inhibits creativity!” say the pantsers; “Pantsing has no direction!” say the plotters.
Plotting vs pantsing: what’s the difference?
If these terms are new to you, they go like this:
Plotting: crafting the story before writing it.
Pantsing: winging it.
The pros and cons
|The story has direction.||Plotting takes time.|
|You’ll probably need to do fewer rewrites.||It’s hard work.|
|You’ll have focus. You’ll know what you need to write.||You don’t have a word count by which to measure your progress during the plotting stage.|
|You’ll probably get through it quicker because you won’t get stuck as often.||It robs you of your creativity. By the time you’ve finished plotting, you’ll have lost interest in writing.|
|You can write whenever you have time, without waiting for inspiration to strike.||There’s less freedom to make changes to the story.|
|It’s a wonderful journey of creativity and discovery.||It involves a lot more staring at a blank page and a lot more writer’s block.|
|Your characters make stuff up as they go along. They do the planning for you.||More rewriting.|
|You have more freedom to make spontaneous changes.||You can only write when you have inspiration. When you run out, you get stuck and give up.|
It shouldn’t be a debate
I didn’t make up these arguments. This is what people really say when they’re defending their process. Doesn’t it sound like bogus, though?
Being a plotter doesn’t mean you don’t have to make stuff up as you go along. You might plan what’s going to happen in each scene, but those plans aren’t 2000 words long because they’re outlines, not scenes. The writer still needs to write the scenes, which means they need to make up stuff.
And there’s no one level of plotting, either. Some do it in detail, others just have a vague idea about what needs to have changed by the end of the scene.
Whether written in ink or not, outlines aren’t set in stone. There’s no “lack of freedom” when it comes to planning. If you want to add a new character or a new subplot, you can do it. There’s nothing stopping you. And if a pantser wants to add something new, they’re still going to have to go back and change a whole lot of stuff. The only difference is that the plotter will have to rethink their endgame, but so what?
And maybe pantsers aren’t going into this as blind as plotters might think. If you haven’t written any notes, that doesn’t mean you know nothing about your story. You might have your characters’ backstories committed to memory. You might have such an understanding of your plot that you don’t need to follow an outline.
Writing with no knowledge of anything about your characters or plot can get you nowhere very slowly. Committing to a plan can be tedious and uninteresting. Both methods have their flaws.
Writing with no knowledge of anything about your characters or plot can be exciting and make your story richer. Committing to a plan can save you from countless revisions and writer’s block. Both methods have their benefits.
Doing one doesn’t mean you can’t do the other. No one said you can’t plan your next chapter based on what happened in the last. No one said you can’t find out something that strays from your outline, but run with it and change your plan accordingly. No one said that if a pantser gets hit with writer’s block, they can’t have a crack at planning.
Calling yourself a plotter doesn’t mean you can’t pants. Calling yourself a pantser doesn’t mean you can’t plot. Despite this, some writers will still defend their process until the end of time as if it’s the only process that works.
Neither process is better than the other. Instead of trying to define the perfect writing process, why don’t we just accept that everyone’s different and what works for you might not work for the person next to you? You shouldn’t tear down someone else’s process just because it’s not one that works for you. So let’s end this debate once and for all: neither party is right, and everyone has their own way of writing a book that works for them.
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