Ask a room full of authors “What’s the best way to write a book?” and you’re sure to get dozens of different answers. Some may say to first create a detailed outline along with a full list of characters and descriptions, while others might encourage you to sit down and just start typing words. This is the difference between plotting and pantsing. While both can be beneficial, you might find one of these approaches or even a combination of the two works best for you.
Are you a person who thrives on structure and likes to have a clear path forward? If so, plotting might be the right choice for you as a writer. Plotting a book generally involves addressing things like:
- Story structure (like the 3 act structure)
- General story arcs
- Major plot points
You can compile all of this information into a neat and tidy outline that hits both the main and individual plot points in your story. This means breaking things down chapter by chapter and scene by scene, creating a thorough guide to the writing of your story. It can also help you spot potential plot holes or storylines that just aren’t working before you actually write them. This can save you time when it comes to rewrites and edits.
Pantsing is a term that basically means writing by the seat of your pants. Instead of having an outline to follow, you simply start with your story idea, at least one character and get to writing! You’ll prefer this approach if you are a writer who prefers to let the story unfold like a path before your own feet.
Pantsers often prefer the sense of freedom that this approach affords them. Stories have a habit of taking on a life of their own, and it is not uncommon for a plot to deviate from the outline once an author really gets into the writing process. When you don’t have an outline to stick to, you can let your story wander wherever it likes until it settles in the right place.
There’s a middle ground to be found between planning out every last detail and starting a story with little more than an idea. Many authors find themselves approaching their work with a mixture of plotting and pantsing. This approach might involve touching on just the major points, such as:
- Main characters
- Major plot points
- What happens in the beginning and end
This approach will give you the guidance that an outline offers alongside the freedom of pantsing. Once you have the basic tenets of how the story should proceed, you can allow everything else to unfold as you move forward. If you’re still unsure of your own preferred writing style, this is a good opportunity to shake things up! If you’ve always plotted then give pantsing a try, or vice versa. The middle ground will also afford you the opportunity to feel whether one approach feels more natural than the other.