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  • Writer's pictureLaura L. Zimmerman

Plotter vs Pantser – Revisited

Recently, I read an article where the blogger stated that only the most talented and seasoned writers could possibly write as a ‘pantser’ and do it well. His basic message was that it takes years to find the groove where you can write a story ‘by the seat of your pants’, and still have a strong plot. This bothered me the day I read the article, and it’s continued to bother me each time I’ve thought on it, since. 

The main hang up I have wasn’t actually something he said, but something I noticed at the bottom after I finished reading – his bio. I saw that he was a veteran writer of more than 30 years. Whoa… hold up. A 30 year writer and he makes a flat statement that very few authors are successful at being a ‘pantser’? I think what frustrates me most with this statement is simply that it’s so very black and whiteI’ve never met two writers that ‘tick’ exactly the same way. Every single person has their own techniques, habits, and routines that fit their writing style and work for them. It’s called being creative. This world would be one boring place if all artists functioned in exactly the same way. Thank God we’re all different. It’s what makes life beautiful. Just because one person isn’t inspired by a specific technique, doesn’t mean it can’t work (and work well) for others.


But, my hang up goes beyond that – and it stems from my own experience as a ‘plotter’ vs. ‘pantser’. It was just about a year ago that I even tried writing without plotting out every detail beforehand. The excitement I felt when I discovered how good a story could flow when I set my notes aside both surprised and delighted me! (I even wrote a few blogs posts about my experience, if you’d like to check them out here and here.) What I’ve seen over the past year is that some of my best writing to date has come from the freedom of allowing a story to be character driven, rather than just plot based. It’s liberating to write the story through the character’s eyes, discovering the plot as I go along. (I’m not talking big picture plot – of course I have a general idea of where the story needs to go, just not the details.)

A good example comes from a chapter I wrote recently: One morning I woke up to write a simple little scene between the main character & her mother, when their words suddenly turned into a fight I hadn’t planned on them having. But I figured out after I’d written it that it was exactly what was needed in that moment. It added another layer of conflict I hadn’t seen the story needed, until it happened! If I had stuck to my old ways and solely plotted, that scene would never have happened and another layer of tension within my story might be lost.

Now, this isn’t to say that I completely disagreed with the guy. Of course I could see what he was referring to: With the dawn and ease of self-publishing, there is a lot of stuff on the market that hasn’t been well edited or even well thought out. He makes a valid point that all stories – even if they were written by a ‘pantser’ – need a solid plot… structure to give backbone to the story in the first place. And I’m here to say I absolutely agree! As soon as I finish writing a story, the first thing I do is sit down and draw up a visual plot-line. (Literally.) I have to see the rise and fall of the action and check for any slow points that need to be cut or adjusted. This is an important step that I agree, should not be skipped. But that certainly shouldn’t take away any credibility from someone who chooses to write off the top of their head, without coming up with extensive notes on the what and how before they begin. And it’s a bit judgmental to lump all ‘pantsers’ together just because there are a few bad works out there without a tight plot.

What are your thoughts? Are you a ‘pantser’ or a ‘plotter’? What techniques do you use to ensure your work has a balance between in-depth characters and a strong plot-line? I’d love to hear your thoughts below! Feel free to leave a comment.

Happy reading, friends!

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