Plotting vs. Pantsing: A Writer’s Dilemma

A glimpse at the plot of my current work-in-progress, an urban fantasy novel

We writers are an interesting group. We spout one-line mantras, like “Write what you know” and “Show, don’t tell.” (It makes us sound a bit like motivational speakers, or ad-men, or harmless members of a strange creative cult. Which I suppose we are.)

We also ask some odd questions which, if you’re not a writer, probably sound esoteric. They’re not. They’re craft questions. One of the biggest is: Are you a plotter or a pantser? As I point out in my new Chipper Muse blog series on this topic, To Pants or Not to Pants, the question isn’t about evil plans to take over the world or the wedgies that “happen” in the boys’ locker room during gym class. No, this is a writer’s craft question. And it’s vital to how we make a story.

If you’re a writer, you know what I’m talking about. But if you’re not and you’re wondering, let me explain. Plotting is outlining, and some writers believe in outlining their stories in great detail before they ever write. Pantsing is having an idea and going with it to see where it goes, writing by the seat of your pants, often without a defined plan. Some of us swear by one technique or the other, but I think most of us do a mix of both.

Regardless of your technique, creating a story with a compelling start, a dramatic middle that keeps you turning pages, and an end that satisfies is no easy task. Plotting, pantsing, a bit of both… They all take work. I think I speak for every writer I know when I say that the effort is worth it. We like communicating with readers, even though it takes work.

And there’s nothing more satisfying that holding a finished product in our hands, knowing that we made that work of art, and now we get to share it. So, to all of you who write, thank you for the effort! And to you who read, thank you for sharing our work with us. We aren’t done until someone has read us and responded. Readers, you’re needed more than you may know!

I’d love to hear from you now… If you write, are you more of a plotter or a pantser, and why? As a reader, what are your favorite things to see in a plot? What stories do you think of when you think, “Great beginning, middle, and ending?”

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