If you’re not a writer, you’ve probably not heard these terms. Before I started entertaining thoughts of writing seriously, I hadn’t heard of them either. Truth be told, I hadn’t heard of them until I had written seriously for a year or so.
So, what do they mean?
Of the two, a plotter is easier to understand just from the word. It is a person who, before embarking on penning a story, plots it meticulously. Now, some do rough outlines of the story, some other do detailed outline down to scenes and pieces of dialogue–the amount of plotting varies from author to author.
On the other hand, a pantser is someone who, “flies by the seat of their pants,” which means they don’t plot out anything, or plot very little.
When I started writing, I couldn’t imagine being a pantser. Without an outline I’d be completely lost. But a book or two or three later, I found myself drawn more and more toward a free form style of writing. I would deviate more often from the outline, changing course like I didn’t care. And the coolest part? I didn’t just enjoy deviating, the result of said deviation was often more spectacular.
There are enough positives for both approaches. While plotting helps in writing faster, and there less chances of getting stuck with writer’s block, pansters are free to go whichever way they like whenever they like.
Both have their share of cons as well. Pantsers probably get stuck more often while writing, not knowing which direction to go. But if plotters decide to change something, they likely have to change a lot because everything else (dependencies etc.) has already been plotted.
What about a happy medium?
Some people, or from my experience most people, fall somewhere in the middle. I know I do. Now there’s a new term for those people — “plantsers.” That means they do a little of both. As I’ve spend more years writing, my outlines have gotten looser. I still do a more detailed outline for epic sci-fi fantasy books, but for the shorter ventures I only do a rough outline. That way I have more freedom to go wherever my spontaneity takes me.
It is also a good thing to experiment and push oneself, I’ve realized. The more you get out of your comfort zone, the more you learn, the more skills you acquire. So, in the beginning, I forced myself to venture out of the rigidness of outlines. It was a scary experience and for a month or so not a very productive one, but now it has become so much easier to straddle the two. No longer scared or intimidated by either, I’m free to choose. And a freer person makes a more creative person, don’t you think?
What about you? Are you a Plotter or a Pantser? Or are you like me, a mix of the two?