Planner or Pantser?

Some authors are meticulous planners.They will develop a rough story idea into a plan that consists of all major events, twists and turning points and they will know exactly how their story ends and how they are going to reach that end. Nothing is left to chance. Every bump and pothole in the road is carefully constructed. Scenes are written out prior to writing, sometimes in as much detail as the actual novel itself. The characters and the setting are meticulously explored. No nasty surprises. Not one ounce of flab. This is a story which is super-fit for purpose.

Other authors are happy to describe themselves as ‘pantsers’. These are the guys  who literally write from the seat of their pants with little or no planning at all prior to writing. These authors will have a general idea of the story they want to write and then simply sit down and write it. The story just goes with the flow until it reaches its natural conclusion.

I would describe myself as a mixture of the two types. I like to have a loose structure. I need to know that the antagonist is a worthy opponent of the protagonist. I will have a rough idea of the beginning, middle and end insomuch that the beginning will turn the normal life of the main character upside down and throw him into turmoil. The middle will see that character facing certain death, either literally or metaphorically, and the end will see him overcome all obstacles and defeat his adversary. In addition, the story will transform my main character and make him grow as a person, so I need to know as much as I can about his pre-story psychology to enable me to work out how he is going to change as a result of the story (his character arc). But mostly I like to discover what happens as the story unfolds. I’m always looking for that bit of magic to come from nowhere and surprise me as much as it will surprise a reader. That knockout moment that I didn’t see coming.

That’s pretty much it. I guess you might call me a ‘planster’.

Authors: How much plotting and planning do you do? Are you a ‘planner’ or a ‘pantser’ or a bit of both?

17 thoughts on “Planner or Pantser?

  1. I’m a mix of both, but I side more with the pantser side. I usually know how a story will begin, the climax, and howit’ll end. My last couple of novels have been 100% pantsing and it’s been interesting, to say the least. At least it keeps me on my toes. lol

    • Thanks for taking the time to reply. Much appreciated. I’ve had a stab at just letting go and seeing where it takes me, and like you say, it’s interesting. I did find the story had a bit of a tendency to get lost and lead me up a few blind alleys, so the novel I am writing now is a mix of the two. It has a loose structure with a license to roam. I really feel that this is a happy medium for me. I also read a book about writing from the middle of the story, which was really interesting. I’ll post something on this later on. Again, thanks for the reply.

  2. Very interesting observations, Mark; I love the ‘panster’! I imagine I also fall into this category, although I concentrate on grammar and punctuation rather than fiction. I’ve now subscribed to your blog; sorry it’s taken such a long time. Best wishes.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read the posts and for subscribing Anna.
      I’m glad that you enjoyed the ‘pantser’ idea. You can be one whatever you write.

  3. I was strictly a ‘pantster’ until I’d written about six chapters of my first novel and realized I needed some kind of structure. I still write as I go for the most part but I create a loose chapter outline to make certain I can keep things straight and remember what I want to include. Sometimes, scenes get move from where I have them in the outline but it helps keep me focused. I supposed I’m a ‘planster,’ s well.

    • Thank you for taking the time to make your comment Debbie. It’s always interesting to see how other people write. I found an interesting concept called ‘writing from the middle of the book’ that I’ll be posting about next Monday (9th).
      Best wishes,
      Mark.

  4. I refer to myself as grey plotter (refering to ye olde mind) or pantzer (comparing my ideas as if contained by a tank) I guess i shall add plantser to as it fits my description.

    • Hi Stefan,

      Thanks for reading the post and your comment. A lot of people seem to like the term Plantser on Twitter and I’m glad you have use for it too!

      All the best,

      Mark.

  5. I’m like you in that I’m a mixture — and it depends on the format, as well. I think for me it comes down to editing time. Shorter stuff, well, that doesn’t take too long to edit, generally, but I don’t want a mess of a first-draft-novel that gives you six years of pain and suffering. So:

    Poetry and flash fiction under 1.5k words or so: pants.
    Short fiction, to 6.5k: a little bit of planning — vague descriptions of scenes, essentially. Still leaves ample room for surprises.
    Novellas/novelettes/novels: moderate planning, down to character backgrounds etc. Little room for surprise, but it happens.
    Novel series, if I ever get to it: PLAN ALL THE THINGS.

    • Hi Chelsea,

      Thanks for taking the time to read the post and comment. From what other people have said in the comments, there are a lot of authors who are a mixture, rather than one or the other. You’re the first person to say pants or plan according to length of piece of writing. My book, The Revelation Room is the first in a series and I have some aspects of the future books planned so I know where the story will go. I still like an element of surprise though, especially if a character thinks something should happen I hadn’t planned for.

      All the best,
      Mark.

  6. I’m also a mix of both and I believe most writers are. In fact I think it can be damaging when so many people describe it as an either/or situation–new writers start thinking they *have* to follow a certain method and get discouraged when it doesn’t work for them.

    • Hi Anna,
      Thanks for reading the post and for your comment. I agree. I remember when I started writing and wondered if there was a right or wrong way to go about it. I realised though, I had to write when and how best suited me and not try to do what other people told me I should.

  7. Really intersting article Mark. I think I’d class myself as a “planster” because I’m definitely a bit of both when I write. I like to have a plan and some order, mixed with the freedom of expression as the story unfolds around me. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for reading Paul.
      I did find that my second book was planned more than the first. I’m starting my third book and that’s got quite a detailed plan. I do like some surprises along with the way though – when the characters decide they are going to take over!

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