TAP011, Plotting vs Pantsing: How to Decide Whether to Plot or Pants Your Novel
TAP011, Plotting Vs Pantsing: How to Decide Whether to Plot or Pants Your Novel
Are you struggling to decide whether you should plot or pants your novel? If you’ve been a writer for longer than a quick minute, then you already know the debate between plotting vs pantsing is fierce. When I considered creating this episode to discuss this important writing topic I didn’t want to make another pros and cons list. Let’s face it, there are millions of those blog posts, podcast episodes, and videos out there, and we don’t need one more. In light of this, it’s important to point out that, it’s not my intention to be controversial but, to help you make an informed decision. Before you decide whether to plot or pants your novel, you need to consider how you learn. It’s also important to understand why these options for work for some writers and not others. If you’ve ever wondered, how to decide whether to plot or pants your novel, then this is for you.
In this episode, I will discuss how to decide whether to plot or pants your novel. I will also discuss when you should pants a novel and my personal experience. I will also share with you the actionable steps you can take to make an informed decision that’s right for you.
So, let’s get started.
I started out learning how to write for the screen, aka screenwriting. Studying screenwriting was how I learnt the value in a great outline. I fell in love with three-act-structure, plot points and discovering characters, and then writing. Over Time, I realised that my screenplays would most likely end up collecting dust in an archive. This, unfortunately, is the norm in the screenwriting world. It can often take years to find the funding and a distribution house to take on a movie from a relatively unknown writer. Yes, obscurity is the enemy of screenwriters too.
This realisation, lead me to realise that what I wanted was for people to enjoy my work after it was completed. Someday, people may see it was no longer an option. This lead to my decision to turn to novel writing. Coincidentally, when I first started writing, I tried the writing by the seat of your pants approach. But, I couldn’t do it. I needed to know what is going to happen and when. You see, I’m not a fan of surprises, and I’m certainly not a discovery writer. Discovering a story during the first draft phase is my worst nightmare. I’m sharing this with you because it’s important to understand my journey and why I decided to outline. If you can relate to my experience on some level, then outlining might be right for you.
The truth is there is no right option. The plotting vs pantsing debate fails to highlight the fundamental truth about these writing styles. Both of these styles are a form of outlining and are two very valid forms of writing. It’s a matter of style and personality. Nevertheless, our personal preferences and our experience lead us to believe that our method is right. And, as a result of our convictions, a debate is created.
When Should You ‘Pants’ a Novel?
Is there a right moment when a writer should pants a novel? Are there any prerequisites to successfully pantsing a novel? It’s been my experience that you should only pants a novel when you understand how to create a story and what makes a novel page turning. A lot of famous writers do write by the seat of their pants, and they’re successful because they know how to write great stories. They instinctively know through trial and error when certain plot points need to happen. It’s almost like they subconsciously outline. It’s not a case of ‘if Stephen King can do it, so can I.’ For this reason, I caution against outlining unless you’ve had experience in creating stories with other mediums, like Lee Child.
Naturally, there is no method available online that explains how an author who is a fan of the pantsing method creates a great story other than write, revise, read, and repeat. Not every writer wants to share and teach their method to others, and that’s okay. Some writers, prefer to write books. Sharing my writing method is a box I need to tick. I’m the type of person who needs to share what I know with others. That’s why I created this channel and my blog.
My recommendation for those of you who are just starting out is to embrace outlining. Before you roll your eyes and close the browser window, just hear me out for a second. There are quite a few misconceptions about outlining. A lot of writers think writing to an outline is boring and isn’t creative. Outlining is very much a part of the creative process. For some writers, it’s where they create a list of scenes and build the core of their story.
The Benefits of Outlining
You could create an outline and then start writing your first draft. However, I like to edit my outline, then write the first draft. The reason why I do this is when I first craft the outline of a novel, I’m often focusing on the global story, miss out the inner world of my characters, and leave plot holes. I also have to rework my ending to make sure it’s satisfying. After I finished writing the first drafts of Immunity and Silence, and began the revision process, I started to notice this trend in my drafts.
It’s important to ensure I deliver the story I promised and write to the genre. So, this means that If I’m writing a conspiracy thriller that I deliver that and not a cosy mystery. When I write my first draft, I do add in extra scenes. Add these extra scenes means I don’t strictly limit myself to an outline, and I add these scenes to my outline as I go. This step becomes useful in the revision stage. So, there is an element of discovery in the first draft writing process. My real recommendation is for you to do both. To outline your story, edit your outline, but at the same time be open to any better ideas as you write. The truth is, you will get better ideas as you write.
So, where do you go from here? I recommend giving both options a try. Yes, this does sound like a lot of work. But, you cannot know whether one option will suit you more than another until you try both styles. So, the best course of action is to write two short stories, outline one story and pants the other. After you’ve finished writing both stories, reflect on your experience and ask yourself the following two questions. Did you like one method more than the other? Which option helped you learn and grow as a writer?
As always I have to ask; are you a fan of the ‘no plans’ option? Or, are you a plotter? Did you take action and write two short stories? I want to hear from you. Let me know by sharing your thoughts or experiences in the comments section below.
Thank you for listening, reading, commenting and sharing with such enthusiasm.
I’m Amelia. I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Missing, the first book in the James Lalonde series. On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process. Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.