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Plotting vs Pantsing March 6, 2013

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in WritingWednesday.

Introducing Writing Wednesday, 4-5pmET in #litchat

Today we’re introducing a new feature in #litchat. We’re calling it WritingWednesday. During WritingWednesday we will discuss specific tools of the craft of writing. Although we’ll primarily focus on fiction, we will include  memoir and narrative nonfiction. Our first topic in Writing Wednesday is Plotting vs Pantsing, or what I like to call Outlining vs Outlying.

Writing communities love to toss around the question, “Are you a plotter or a panster?” It’s not hard to understand what a plotter is, the word is organic to writing a novel. Novels need plots, therefore you want to be a plotter. Right? Not necessarily. Being a plotter isn’t about writing plots, it’s about creating detailed plot outlines before writing novels. Now compare that to the pantser. Pansters write by the seat of their pants, without outlines or other written notes. Pansters have a general idea or theme, but they head into the journey without a map. They often know the beginning, the end, and the major plot points in between, but getting there is an act of writing on the whim.

Ask a panster about writing with an outline and he/she will have dozens of reasons why it doesn’t work for them. Ask a plotter to write without a map and they would give you a bevy of reasons for why writing with an outline is more efficient. There are bestselling and critically acclaimed writers in each of the camps. While everyone has differing methods to writing fiction, most writers agree there is simply no right or wrong way to approach the creative process of writing.

In searching for good content for examples, I found many excellent blogs extolling the virtues of plotting. I found few blogs which described the organic process of writing without an outline. I’ve posted the best of them below. If you know of a good article or blog which features either of these processes, please post them in a comment below.

Carolyn Burns Bass: How I Wrote A Novel Without An Outline

Katherine Derbyshire: Writing Without A Net – Organizing Without Outlines

Mary Vensel White: To Plot Or Not To Plot

Joseph Finder: To Outline or Not

Rachel Aaron: How I Outline A Novel in 5 Steps

Glen C. Strathy: How to Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps

Michelle Richmond: How to Write a Novel – 10  Steps

Read the chatscript of this discussion here.



1. Carol Buchanan - March 6, 2013

I don’t trust anyone that thinks a novel can be written — plotted or “pantsed” — in (any number) of (easy) steps.

Carolyn Burns Bass - March 6, 2013

I think the operative word above is *easy*. While there are merits to any process, each author needs to find out what works for them.

2. christianfreyca - March 6, 2013

Here’s my messy process on how I use pantsing to plot my novel: http://christianfrey.ca/this-is-how-it-goes/

Carolyn Burns Bass - March 6, 2013

Thanks for the peek into your process. I wonder sometimes whether we should just stop saying “rewriting” and just say writing.

3. christianfreyca - March 6, 2013

Here’s another link to a New Yorker article on different types of creative processes. They look at the difference in certain writers’ processes as well as Picasso and Cezanne. Immediately reminded me of pantsers vs plotters style: http://nyr.kr/WDHABc

Carolyn Burns Bass - March 6, 2013

What a fabulous piece. Thank you so much for posting it here. This particularly spoke to me: “Picasso once said in an interview with the artist Marius de Zayas. ‘In my opinion, to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing.'”

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