Pantser or Plotter?

by Matthew X. Gomez

Pantser- a writer who creates by the seat of his or her pants. May or may not believe in a scared muse that shines forth inspiration through which the writer is merely the conduit. Slops words on the page and then, only then sees what sticks.

Plotter- the writer who meticulously plans, outlines, and takes notations before setting in to the actual act of creation. May or may not engage in extensive worldbuilding, character biographies and intricate plots.

So which one am I then?

I tend to be a pantser by nature. I like to sit down at my laptop with maybe a title or an idea, and sometimes not even the title, and see where it takes me. It’s a fluid, open kind of write, and usually when I’m about two or three hundred words in I get a sense of the general direction the story is going in. Sometimes I resist the urge to follow exactly my first instinct. Why? Maybe it seems too similar to something I was just watching/reading/playing. Maybe I think of a way to twist it just so to keep it fresher (if not for my readers than definitely for me).


I see the need for the plotting. I’m currently four chapters in to a much longer piece (I believe it’s pronounced No-Vell) that has too many moving parts. At least three main characters, a host of lesser ones, each with their own motivations, schemes,  plots and sub-plots. There’s a dying king with no heir, political maneuvering, and the monsters in the shadows are figuring out how to make their triumphant return. Not the kind of thing you want to just sit down and write and have it all be consistent.

There is an alternative to plotting it out beforehand, however. Sit down, write it all out. Then, before you start the serious business of editing (aka the culling of the darlings), you write out your outline. You go through, chapter by chapter. Identify the main actors. Identify the major conflicts, the major resolutions. This helps do a few things.

  1. Identifies gaping plot holes.
  2. Identifies areas that are too contrived.
  3. Identifies cardboard characters and helps flesh them out.
  4. Some editors and publishers want to see an outline of the book. They don’t want to have to read it to know the plot. They aren’t in the business of being surprised, but of pushing out your book. Give them a good sense of where it’s going and they can offer useful and often necessary advice.

So what am I then? A pantser who plots. Which are you?


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