Plotter vs. Pantser

Hello and welcome back to the blog! Envie Magazine has named this blog the Blog of the Month for August. Check out the latest issue for an interview with yours truly at envie magazine dot com. The first draft of Breaking Character: A Grave Awakening is marinating for the next month or so, before I read and prepare for a second draft. Querying continues with From Darkness Comes… with no news to report on that front. I’m currently writing a short story in the adult horror genre, involving a new take on vampires. Before we get to the post, I’ve got some cleanup to take care of. For those of you that have read last week’s blog post, I realized I made an error involving my own writing history. I stated that I hadn’t written a story about vampires because of the popularity of Twilight and magazine editors’ refusal to accept the commonly used trope. While that was true for a long time, I did write a middle grade short story around two years ago revolving around vampires. It was published for a brief time with Kindle Direct Publishing as a tester for a novel I ultimately decided against self-publishing. Plotter vs pantser is on the docket today. Let’s get started.

Those of you that are familiar with the blog have read this next statement before, but I’m going to reiterate a point for those that might be new. The story is king. In other words, the story is the boss and you should go wherever it takes you. However, how you go about doing that is completely up to you. Every writer has their own method to writing. Some of us prefer to have a detailed outline, a roadmap if you wish to call it that, of all the places the story should go from beginning to end. Such writers are commonly called plotters. Other writers prefer to feel out the story as they go along, flying by the seat of their pants. Those writers are called pantsers. If you’ve been around the writing community for long, chances are you’ve heard of these terms. But which are you? Below is a list of pros and cons for each, incase you haven’t made up your mind.

Pros

Plotter:

  • A concrete idea of where the story is going
  • No surprises
  • Helps eliminate writer’s block
  • Control over where the story is going

Pantser

  • Creativity
  • Feel for the story
  • Closer to the origins of storytelling
  • Makes you think and feel the characters in the moment

Cons

Plotter:

  • Dampens creativity
  • Can result in an overly plot driven story
  • These books can read like someone going through the motions

Pantser:

  • Writer’s block can result
  • Uncertainty and anxiety
  • Plot holes can happen here (and they have for me)

Which one to choose? Well, there are a lot of things to like about both options. Avoiding writer’s block and having a sense of control make the plotter method appealing to me. Unfortunately, I’m against dampening my creative outlet and prefer more of a character driven book to a plot heavy one. (A note: For those yelling at me, yes, I realize a plotter can write a novel that isn’t plot heavy and instead character driven. However, the risk is still there and that’s why it’s listed as a con.) On the other side of things, I appreciate the creative outlet that comes with the pantser method. I also think the phrase the story is king is more in tune with this method. It’s a conundrum, right? Wrong.

If you’re having trouble choosing between the plotter or pantser method, might I suggest going with a hybrid of the two. I’ll use my own writing method as an example, but you can do whatever combination works for you. When I start a novel (short stories are different), I write a paragraph or two describing the idea. Sometimes it’s longer, but usually two is enough to get the general idea laid out. Then I turn to character descriptions for all characters that play a significant role in the novel. A list of “things to happen” is next, usually involving key events and turning points. Before I start writing I make a couple of notes on what I would like to happen for each of the first three chapters. I don’t do the entire novel. However, I always plan two or three chapters ahead. This gives me the creative freedom to make changes as I go along without ruining an entire outline, which I usually take advantage of. I’ve tried being a full-on plotter and scrapped an entire outline as a result. Yet, I’ve also had problems with the full-on pantser method, as I have failed to finish all those novels. A hybrid method is best for my writing style.

So, how is my method for writing a short story different? Well, it looks similar, yet with less steps. I start out with an idea, usually a couple sentences jotted down and a few character descriptions. Then I get to writing. As the writing process goes along, I tend to make a few notes as a visual reminder of where the story is progressing to. It’s not as complex as my methodology for writing a novel, but it doesn’t need to be. I just need some basics to get through the three to five thousand words that make up a short story.

Whether you choose plotter, pantser, or a hybrid of the two, make sure of one thing. The story is king, choose one that helps you crown the story. Feel free to let me know which you are in the comments or if you have other pros and cons for either. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @StephenRoth316 for both. Click the follow button in the bottom, right-hand corner of the screen and enter a valid email address for free updates on the blog. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Published by stephenmroth

Stephen Roth is a horror writer focused on making his dreams a reality.

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