plotting vs pantsing

Plotting vs Pantsing: The Great Writing Debate

You can tell a lot about a person by knowing whether they like to plot or pants (or, alternatively, nothing at all). Me, I’m still undecided. Sometimes I feel like plotting. It doesn’t always go well, but I do it. Plus, one of my astrologist friends told me that I need to start planning things meticulously if I want my creative endeavors to be successful (and I keep trying).

Mostly, I’m a pantser. Once I plot out the story, however badly I do it, I get bored with it. In my mind, it’s already finished. But if I don’t do it, I meander too much. So I try for a hybrid. But before I tell you what I do, let’s review what plotting and pantsing actually mean.

The Plot Thickens

Plotting is the meticulous, detail-oriented approach to writing. It’s like creating a map for your novel before you start the journey. You plot out your story from beginning to end, outlining chapters, character arcs, and major plot points. If you’re more of a plotter, here’s a useful guide (with downloadable files) for you.

Pros of Plotting

  • Structure: Plotting provides a clear structure, ensuring that your story doesn’t meander aimlessly.
  • Fewer Writer’s Blocks: Knowing what comes next can help overcome writer’s block.
  • Coherent Themes: It helps in weaving themes and foreshadowing into the narrative.

Cons of Plotting

  • Rigidity: Some writers feel confined by a rigid plot and may lose the spontaneity of the creative process.
  • Potential for Overthinking: It’s easy to get lost in the details of your outline.

Flying by the Seat of Your Pants

Pantsing is a method where you dive into writing with little to no planning. You let your creativity flow, allowing your story to evolve naturally.

Pros of Pantsing

  • Creativity Unleashed: You have the freedom to explore uncharted territories of your story.
  • Surprise Elements: Your characters can sometimes surprise you, making the journey exciting.
  • Quick Start: You can start writing immediately without the pressure of a structured outline.

Cons of Pantsing

  • Potential for Chaos: Without a plan, you may end up with a disjointed story.
  • Editing Challenges: Editing a pantsed manuscript can be more time-consuming as you may need to rework major portions.

Hybrids (Or, What I Do)

The eternal question remains: should you plot or pants? The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It often depends on the writer and the story. Here are some tips for finding your perfect balance:

1. Know Thyself

Understand your writing style and comfort level. Are you a meticulous planner, or do you thrive on spontaneity? Embrace your natural inclinations.

2. Experiment

Don’t be afraid to experiment. You might plot one project and pants the next. The creative process should be flexible, after all!

3. If you’re undecided (like me)

So, if you’re not sure what works best for you: welcome to the club! We’re an indecisive bunch (would you like coffee or tea?).

All jokes aside, my process is this: I figure out the start of my story, and then the end. Basically, I have a clear idea of where I want to start (be it with character arcs or the plot) and a clear idea of where I want to end up. Everything in between is fair game.

Sometimes I list out some scenes that I want to have. This helps when I’m stuck and need something fun to write, but these scenes don’t always make it into my final drafts.

You can also go for a very rough outline (as in: characters A and B meet, they fall in love, they break up over X and get together because of X). If you want some help, you can also follow some plot structures like the Three Act Structure or Save the Cat, or even just figure out your character arcs without knowing the plot in advance (links are to my personal Gdoc files which you can copy and use for yourself).


In the plotting vs. pantsing showdown, there’s no clear winner. What works best is the approach that suits you, your story, and your creative process. And hey, if you have any ideas for a hybrid creature like me, please let me know in the comments below!

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