There are a few ways to go about your story when it comes to writing. You can create notes and backstories, character descriptions and motivations, and research locations, history, or languages...or you can just start to write. While there is no RIGHT way to write other than to do it, there tend to be a couple of ways people begin.
Plotters will often research and plan out the story, whether its arc, timeline, or characters. A plotter creates a roadmap for their writing that helps them get from point A to point B and ultimately from the beginning to the end of the story without getting lost, deviating too far from their plan, or getting stuck trying to figure out what to say next. Pantsers, on the other hand, may not plan at all before they begin to write and often allow the story to unfold in front of them as they write. There may not be a solid plan or even a knowledge of where the end destination will be when they begin. That can be the joy of their writing process. It is free from constraint and allows them to discover the story as they go.
While both methods have their pros, they each have cons as well. Plotters may find that the plan for their story doesn't work at some point or consider changing a vital aspect of a character or plot point, which may require them to change many other parts of their outlined story. As a result, they may abandon the change or the story altogether to avoid the extra work. Pantsers may find that they get lost during the story or for those who do not go back and re-read what they have already written may have continuity issues throughout the story that require extensive editing later on.
Which one am I?
When I began writing Awakened, I didn't intend for it to be a book, it was just a scene writing exercise, and it continued to grow until it was eventually a book. That process was 100% pantser, with little to no plotting taking place in the beginning. Once I got to a certain point, I began to create a very minimal story outline to allow me to finish the book, but editing took quite a long time because of the changes I made along the way without keeping track of what had already happened. By the time I got to Challenged, I knew better than to leave it all to writing by the seat of my pants and spent more time researching where the story would take place, who the new characters would be, and where I wanted to take the story. That process was what I have heard referred to as "Plantsing," which is a mix of the two. I still allowed the characters to take the story in new directions or surprise me with what they said, how they reacted, or who was listening in the next room. But it also gave me the structure to move forward with a bit more confidence, having decided early on about some of the plot directions.
Plotter or Pantser Quiz: Original Posted on TCKPublishing.com
Chances are you already have a general idea of where you fall on this spectrum, but it’s nice to confirm where you stand.
1. Do your characters surprise you with what they do?
2. When you travel, is your itinerary already figured out?
3. Do you have trouble finding in your notes details about the world in your story?
4. Are you generally organized in your non-writing life?
5. Do you enjoy being lost?
6. Do you go through your “to read” pile in order?
7. Do you often improvise dinner based on what you find in the fridge?
8. Is your library alphabetized?
9. Is emotion more important than structure?
10. Do you often know the purpose of each chapter before you write it?
11. Does your dialogue often make you laugh out loud?
12. Do you spend more time outlining a book than writing the first three chapters?
13. Are you capable of doing real work on your novel without your notes handy?
14. Have you ever created a wiki or other resource file for your novel?
15. Do you dislike outlining?
16. Is “plan your work, then work your plan” a mantra you sometimes repeat?
17. Are you more creative than you are disciplined?
18. Do you know your characters’ backstories before you write them?
19. Is dealing with continuity errors a major part of your revision process?
20. Is engineering your story as important as other elements?
Give yourself one point for each even-numbered question you answered with a “yes.” Subtract one point for each odd-numbered question you answered with a “yes.” Give yourself zero points for anything where you had to think a while, or the answer is truthfully “well….uh…sometimes” or “I’m not sure.”
8 to 10 You are a born plotter. Your plots are laid out before you type the first word of chapter one, even to the point of knowing who says what in which conversation. It’s possible that you color-code your notes. Your plots and pacing are top-notch, though sometimes your dialogue seems flat or your character actions forced. Continuity is flawless. You can grow by learning to recognize when a great inspiration is more important than your finely tuned plot.
4 to 7 You favor plotting, but you are open to spontaneity from time to time. You go to work with a strong outline, but let the points between your bullets take care of themselves. Plot and continuity are still strong, though still clearly more important to you than character autonomy and dialogue. Sometimes your pacing falls flat. You can grow by identifying which parts of the pantsing approach you do best, and building those skills up.
3 to -3 Sometimes you plot. Sometimes you pants. It depends on the needs of the story, the characters, the pacing, or the details of your workday. This can give you the best of both worlds, since you are able to apply equal effort to all aspects of the writing craft. Occasionally, you end up trying to write a scene in one way which you really should have written another. Grow by adding some analysis of whether plotting or pantsing is most appropriate to a specific session of writing, and coming to that session prepared.
-4 to -7 You are a pantser. Mostly. You prefer to let the characters do the thinking, and to let inspiration rule the plot. But that doesn’t mean you’re out there without a net. You have a general idea of the lynchpin moments in your story, and you built your characters to help make those linchpins happen. Continuity is your biggest boogeyman, since you have just enough outline in place to be confident when you probably shouldn’t be as sure. Grow by biting the bullet and adopting tools for tracking the most important elements of your tale.
-8 to -10 You love being surprised by what your characters do and say, and how the plot twists sometimes surprise you. This infuses your writing with more realistic personalities and a level of excitement and discovery. You do lose time and words to literary dead ends, and need two beta readers specifically for continuity. Grow by keeping a writing notebook where you jot down the basics so you can keep track of fundamental pieces of your story and your world.