If you’re a writer, these terms have a lot of meaning to you. If you’re not, these terms could still have a lot of meaning to you. They are pretty simple, definition wise. A pantser is someone who likes to live on the edge, to “wing it,” to figure things out as they go. A plotter who someone who likes to know things in advance, who likes to plan and outline, before getting started.
Being the natural weirdo that I am, of course, I’m both.
I love organization. On my computer, I have folders dedicated to each project that I’m writing and then, within those folders, numerous other meticulously-organized sub-folders: drafts, “completed works” (if there is such a thing), character profiles, outlines, notes, queries, the whole nine yards. I actually love outlines. I have an outline for every book I’ve written, which is usually some mixture including a chronological listing of major plot points, character tidbits, important notes, epiphanies during writing that I add in as I go so I don’t forget and spoilers abound. No one ever sees these outlines, but they are terribly helpful for me. The first book I wrote, the outline was almost a dozen pages in Word and so detailed, it could have been the book itself. I lived and breathed off that outline. I couldn’t imagine ever writing something without that guide to fall back on when I was stuck.
Until I did.
Crazier still, I enjoyed it.
Granted, I didn’t completely make the switch from plotter to pantser. On this latest novel, I started making an outline, like usual. I had the basic idea in my head: struggling old writer whose never been published gets approached by magical wizard-esqe being and becomes a self-aware fictional character in a story filled with tropes, with the goal of beating the trope to make a unique story being the only way Artemis (the writer) can escape from being stuck in that fictional world forever. I love this idea. I was so excited to write it, back before I started, yet I kept putting it off because I didn’t actually want to outline it. I didn’t want to figure out all the minor details or the other characters or the world. I just wanted to get started and see where it took me, but the plotter in me prevented that from happening. So, like I said, I started making a rough outline. After 30 minutes of meager details being recorded, I finally shut up the plotter side of me and gave into the pantser side.
I wrote the first chapter that day and haven’t looked back since.
As I’ve continued, I’ve adopted a mixture of pantsing and plotting that I think I’ll keep around for a while. I’ve removed the pressure of having a really detailed outline before I write a word–like my first book did–and instead just start with a basic outline; an overview of the most important plot points and anything extra is gold, but not required. And then I write and fill in the outline as I go, with new details that I’ve discovered, major trends or themes I don’t want to forget or scenes that I want to set up for later books.
It’s rather fun, doing it this way, despite often setting off alarm bells for my OCD-esqe lifestyle. It’s been particularly enjoyable lately, as I enter into the second half of the book, where there are more elements unknown than known. I know how the book is going to end (and oh how readers are going to hate me for it) and I figured out what events need to happen between what I’ve already written and that ending, but I have no idea what order, no specifics on how it happens, no idea how my characters will respond or what surprises they’ll throw my way. The days leading up to this unknown next scene, I dragged in my writing. I dreaded figuring out what was going to happen next, despite my excitement at letting the story and my characters take the wheel.
Two days ago, I figured it out and it’s awesome (hint: it includes magical trees, rogue goblins and a freakin’ badass Spriggan). It’s so much better than anything I could have planned, so much darker than I originally thought this novel was going to be and the way things fell into place was truly magical, like everything I had written so far was written precisely to set up this scene that I had never thought about until I was actually writing it.
So if you ask me if I’m a pantser or a plotter (cough: I’m looking at you, NaNoWriMo), I’m sorry to say I can’t claim one side, but inhabit a little bit of both. And I think I’m a better writer for it.