Generally speaking, there are two main categories of writers: pantsers and plotters.
This week, we’re going to be talking about pantsing and plotting and everything in between.
Pantsing is sort of a funny word, but it’s shorthand for writing by the seat of your pants, a reference to how some pilots flew planes in days gone past. Back in the day, there weren’t a lot of instruments to help with flying planes and because of that, good pilots would develop a sort of sixth sense for how their plane was operating. They would describe feeling as if they were wearing a second skin, and would claim to have a connection to their craft through the seat they were sitting on. Through the way the seat’s vibrations they would know what was going on with the airplane. In fact, high-end race car drivers describe this exact same thing. The way the steering wheel feels in their hands and the way the seat feels under them tells them almost everything they need to know about the car without having to look at their dashboard.
For writers, being a pantser means operating in that same instinctive way. Rather than writing a story based on a well-outlined plot, you might feel your way through it. To give you an example of how this plays out, when I started writing, I would often start with a single idea and just start the story. Whether I started at that point or whether I knew that that point was halfway through the story or at the end of the story, it didn’t matter. I would just sit down, start writing, and see where the story took me.
If you find yourself in a position where, instead of writing out a detailed outline and expanding it into a full story, you just start writing, then you might be a pantser too. It’s important to understand that being a pantser or being a plotter is entirely a matter of preference. Some people write better when they’re able to explore a new world, explore what characters are doing, and other people write better when they’re able to plan it out. Each type of writing has its pros and cons.
Some people are motivated to write stories because they don’t know what’s going to happen next and they want to find out. That’s very much the reason that I write. One of the things that I’ve discovered about myself is that if I write intense outlines, I often won’t write the story because I already know how it turns out. One of my intrinsic motivations when I write is to discover what’s going to happen in the story because, when I sit down, I don’t actually know what is coming next.
One of the greatest feelings for me when writing is to be surprised by what my characters do. There are numerous points throughout my books where I expect a character to do one thing, but when I actually get to that page, the character does something entirely different. If you are a pantser, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about, but if you’re not, it can be hard to understand this way of writing. I mean, you might say, “What do you mean you don’t know what your character is going to do? Don’t you write it?” Well, yeah, I do. Believe it or not, sometimes the words just sort of flow out of me and appear on the page, and then when I read over it, I find myself surprised.
So, what’s the advantage of pantsing? When you have an exploratory style of writing, it tends to produce a very organic feeling story. Things feel a little bit more natural. The relationships seem less forced. The story might be a little bit looser, but it will often feel like it just sort of naturally happens. This creates a very readable flow. Pantsers tend to produce books that people will zip through because the plot typically doesn’t require any major mental leaps. Additionally, when you write in this way, it’s a lot easier to have surprising moments, and with that surprise can come wonder and delight. You’ve probably had this experience where you’re standing around in a group of people and something happens and somebody just comes up with a funny joke in the moment or says something humorous and everybody laughs. When something isn’t premeditated, it tends to surprise and delight us a little bit more.
But that doesn’t mean that pantsing is all roses. The major cons of pantsing are that your story is not going to be as tight as a well plotted novel. Furthermore, the way the plot evolves might be a bit scattered, making it easy to lose the thread of the story. Because pantsing tends to encourage this meandering exploration, sometimes pantsers just never make it where they set out to go and stories can stall. The middle of a pantser’s books also tend to be particularly hard to write, as they try to balance all the different subplots, and often, reaching a satisfying conclusion can feel elusive.
At the end of the day, there isn’t a right way to write, apart from the way that is right for you. Knowing if you fall into this pantser category, however, can be exceptionally helpful as you try to improve your own writing process and level up your craft.
YouTube Video Link: https://youtu.be/23dczR0cQrc
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