Plotting vs. Pantsing

About 100 years ago I promised I’d do a post on plotting. I’m slow, but I eventually follow through, people.

For Between, I mainly pantsed my way through the whole thing. There are things that happened when I was writing that even I didn’t see coming. I’d type it out and be like, “Whoa!!” That’s hard to explain to anyone who isn’t into writing- that your characters can take on a mind of their own and surprise you- but I’ve heard several writers talk about it so I’m NOT CRAZY.

I love that feeling- the not knowing exactly where it’s headed, and being delightfully surprised by whatever comes up. It’s part of what makes writing SO FUN.

Unfortunately, when you don’t know where you’re heading….you DON’T KNOW WHERE YOU’RE HEADING. This means lots of extra time writing, thinking, and editing (because your realize later that a whole lot of that stuff you wrote while you were just figuring stuff out has to go. Completely pointless.)

So. When I started work on the next book, I started looking into different methods of plotting. Some people come up with EXTREMELY detailed outlines. Others come up with spreadsheets to plan out all the major plot points.


This is JK Rowling’s spreadsheet for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Amazing.

I tried to plot. I couldn’t do it. As soon as I started planning stuff out, I got bored. It was like I’d already written the story–all the fun was sucked right out of it. There was no “wonder what will happen?” feeling when I wrote. I wrote the scenes, but it was just….dull.

And THEN- a lovely friend on Twitter introduced me to Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s a screenwriting method, but it works well for novels also. Basically, the book explains that every single story in the world can be broken into fifteen beats, and it helps you plan your own story in fifteen plot points. It has you plan JUST ENOUGH to know where you’re going, without planning so much that there’s absolutely no wiggle room. Elizabeth from Liz Writes Books is even lovely enough to have posted her own Save The Cat Beat Sheet for Novels on her blog! (***EDITED TO ADD- Liz commented on this post (YAY!) and posted a few more really great links for pantsers who need help with plotting. Be sure to check out the links in her post in the comments!)

I’ve been trying this out with my WIP, and it’s really made a difference. Now when I’m stuck, I just look to one of the scenes that I know will happen at some point, and write it. Working through the beats I’ve planned helps me to connect the dots later on. (I’m not the only one who writes out of order, right? I wouldn’t have any idea of how to sit down and write a story from beginning to end.)

What about you guys? Are you a pantser? Do you plot? If so, what method works for you?

17 thoughts on “Plotting vs. Pantsing”

  1. I wish I could pants someitmes. But I'm a natural plotter. I usually write a detailed outline and do something like a table for all chapters so the chapters give me a brief description of what happens and the time span of the chapter and whether it's in the present day, past or future. I also have character profiles so I can keep up with what they look like, age and personality. It can get hard for me to keep up with a project so planning helps me a lot.

  2. Where are your notecards!?!?!?!?!?Also, when did you redesign the blog?Also, also, I am thus far a pantster-ish person. With this WIP, I wrote a few scenes, plopped down some ideas and then realized I needed a timeline, so I created a very, very vague outline. For the Steampunk story, I am going to sit down and PLOT. It's going to be an intricate sci-fi trilogy, so I definitely need to make it complex but easy to follow, and there are going to be a lot of characters, so I will need to PLAN. BIG TIME. That's what the caps means. BIG TIME.

  3. Most of my writing has been done via pantsing. With my current WIP, I'm trying to do more plotting, which is working fine, although I wrote the first 20,000 words before starting the plotting. With my next WIP, I'd like to try only planning and see how it goes, getting most of the scene ideas laid out before typing. We'll see how it goes because sometimes it's hard to ignore that itch to just write.

  4. I'm definitely a plotter, but not to the tiniest detail. I usually make a list of the scenes (in a loose order) for Part 1 of the novel, write that,then do the same for the remaining 3 or 4 parts of the novel. That way I get a little bit of both because detailed plotting will suck the fun out of writing a first draft. Thanks for the links!

  5. Thanks for linking to the beat sheet! And YAY! for Save the Cat! Save the Cat has saved my butt so many times.For those hardcore pantsers who have trouble with Save the Cat (especially with a first draft, all those beats can be intimidating), I would strongly urge you to check out the 7-Point Plot workshop by Dan Wells. The 7 beats line up with StC near perfect and there's less thinking/planning involved.Here's a YouTube link for the workshop: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcmiqQ9NpPEAnd here's a link to the PowerPoint slides he uses: http://www.fearfulsymmetry.net/?p=405

  6. See? I'm a natural pantser and I REALLY wish plotting came more easily to me. I do keep a notebook of character profiles though, so I don't get halfway through the book and wonder, \”What color are her eyes again?!\”

  7. I forgot the notecards. I redesigned the blog when I entered that Writers Voice contest, because the silly formatting was ENRAGING me.I think we're the same about pantsing. (IMAGINE THAT! WE'RE ALIKE??)And also, I can't wait for you to start on the Steampunk story again. I need to read mooooooooore. BIG TIME.

  8. Sometimes it's easiest for me to just start writing so I can sort of get a feel for the characters. This is annoying, because like I said- a lot of that early writing gets cut because it doesn't end up doing much for the plot- but I can't help it. I just like to wander around a bit when I start something new.Good luck with plotting your next WIP! I'm trying too. Let me know how it goes!

  9. Right- I think that's what I like so much about this Save the Cat method. You lay out the major plot things that HAVE to happen, but you also get the freedom to get from one point to the other however you want without planning out every little detail. It works for me, so far.

  10. YOU GUYS! It's Liz from LIZ WRITES BOOKS! It's like, a CELEBRITY SIGHTING ON MY BLOG! 😉 Thanks for stopping by and sharing so many more awesome things!! I'm going to go edit the post to make sure everybody sees! Thank YOU for being so awesome to create and post your beat sheet spread sheet. A friend of mine used it just last night and was raving about it. 🙂

  11. I just discovered that Save the Cat beat sheet on another blog the other day, it has been so incredibly useful, especially when I found the Inception, Star Wars, and Hunger Games novel beat sheets on the guy's website too. Seeing examples of things that I think are well paced really helped me see where I could go with my own pacing. I used to be more of a pantser but I had trouble completing manuscripts, I'd get so tied in a knot I just ended up giving up on the book and starting a new one. This time I'm trying to outline in at least a bit more detail before I start.

  12. Awesome! There's a second book, Save the Cat Goes o the Movies, in which Blake Snyder lays out the 15 beats for all kinds of well-known movies. I own it, and I look at it all the time. It's so helpful to see the beats of movies I know and like, you know? If you don't mind me asking- what web site did you find those beat sheets at! I'd love to see them!

  13. Came here via the YA Misfits blog. :)I'm pretty much exactly like you for planning – I'm a total pantser, love the rush I get from discovering the story and characters as I write, and lose my creative drive when I try to plot a whole thing out. However, I feel completely daunted at the start of a new project, wondering how I can possibly pants my way through an entire novel. I'm working on my sixth now, and for all of them I've planned out the endpoint, the climactic moment, and usually a couple of turning points in the middle as target destinations to guide my pantsing, which takes the intimidation off. In my early novels I'd do a lot of chopping from the beginning as a result of my pantsing, but I've become a lot more efficient in that regard, carefully considering each next scene before I write it, and don't have to remove much anymore.I found this some time ago, and think it's one of the best summaries I've seen of the internal creative differences between pantsers and plotters: http://jnduncan.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/panters-and-plotters-the-core-difference/

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