Selfishly Pantsing Vs. Selflessly Plotting

There’s this question other writers are bound to ask of your writing: Are you a Plotter or Pantser? Meaning, do you sit down and outline your novel, planning each and every part, or do you fly by the seat of your pants, letting the story unfold as you write it.

I admit it. I’ve asked, too.

Most times this question is asked because other writers want to be justified in the way they create their own works. If Best Selling Author A wrote Best Selling Novel B without a notion of where it would lead when he began, then so can they. It might even be part of the process for finding an absentee mentor of sorts.

It’s also a way to see if the author is selfish or selfless. Hear me out.

The way I see it, if you’re writing by the seat of your pants, a Pantser, then you’re writing for the sheer thrill of writing. You want to be surprised by the actions of your characters as much as anybody else. This isn’t a negative critique by any means. If you’re not impressed with your own work, how can you expect anyone else to be?

Regardless, Pantsing equals selfish.

Plotting, on the other hand, requires you to figure out the story before you write it. And whether it’s consciously or subconsciously,you have your audience in mind while you do it. If you didn’t care who read your book, why even bother with plot? If you want the book to have a payoff for the reader, it’s important to pay careful attention to the plot.

Hence, Plotting equals selfless.

Now before you swarm the comments with hate mail, let me finish. I don’t believe any story can be successful using only one of these two methods. If Pantsing could sell by itself, there would hardly be need for edits other than maybe copy edits. How many successful books have you heard of that do that? None to knowledge. As well with Plotting on its own, I think would leave the book feeling two-dimensional. This could also leave your book a bit predictable, especially if you keep reusing the same plot.

I think the perfect balance happens when you combine the two. Really I can only speak for myself. So I’ll give you the basic gist to my creative Plotting/Pantsing process.

I start with exploratory writing, Pantsing. This is how I get a feel for the characters, setting, and any other elements I might find in the story. At some point, if the story is compelling enough, I’m hit with an ending. I know it’s right because I’m covered in goose bumps and my hair stands on end as my mind plays out the major turning points and resolution. Did I mention I’m only a couple thousand words in?

That’s when I stop Pantsing and start with the Plotting.

I take what I already have through Pantsing and add to it the main plot points I just discovered. Then I try to conceive of events to happen that will connect all those points. It’s a rough outline with only a few points carved in stone for me, those hair-standing moments.

Then from Plotting, back to Pantsing.

Then I go back to the text and try to create believable scenes that correlate my outline. If something doesn’t feel right, I do something different. With exception to those few stone-carved scenes, I don’t feel at all obligated to stick to the plotting outline.

After see-sawing between Plotting and Pantsing, eventually the first draft is completed. Celebrate, relax, then revise. The revision process is the same:

Pants, Plot, repeat.

Is this anything like your process? Whether it’s the same or different, I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments below.