If you’ve been amongst other writers for a while, chances are you have come across the terms planner and pantser a couple of times, and maybe even heard of plantser. These terms get thrown around from time to time but become especially common as November gets closer.
But what do they mean? And why do they show up more around November?
Well, the simple answer is that these terms describe different types of writers. They show up more around November as people prepare for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). As people explain how they are prepping for the month-long writing extravaganza, the type of writer they are begins to show. The terms began with the event but soon spread in popularity due to their simple way of categorizing the different types of writers.
Planners Do What You Think
Planners are really the easiest to understand based on their name, which is a bit ironic given that their writing style isn’t really easy.
Planners plan out their stories. Outlining is a planner’s best friend. They plot out the entire story, giving them a roadmap to follow as they write. They plot out everything from the character arcs of every single character to each setting’s tiniest detail. Planners will spend hours agonizing over details that may not even make it into the final product, but they don’t mind. They figure having all of the information will help them write out their story better, and they aren’t wrong.
I do believe there are some details the writer needs to know, but aren’t super important to the readers themselves. Those extra details can help the writer make sure other aspects of the story are accurate to the world and its characters, but adding them in will just slow the story down and overwhelm the readers.
When planners finally sit down to actually write something, they don’t want any surprises. They will have all the information they need to start and finish their story and they will not be stopping for any detours along the way.
Pantsers Follow Their Own Rules
The term pantsers is a little harder to figure out but makes sense once you know it. Pantsers are writers who write by the seat of their pants. In other words, they have no plan when they sit down to work.
Pantsers believe in a more organic approach to writing. They don’t want to plan everything out. They want to see where their story and characters will take them. These writers are all about enjoying the journey and discovery of their process.
Pantsers sit down in front of a blank screen or sheet and write whatever feels right. They let their characters make the decisions and tell them where the story is going to go. They may stop in a certain setting and notice how some random tree in the background behaves, and then have to go back to earlier chapters and add it in. They have no plan and are just winging it.
If something interesting pops up, they will follow that thread and see where it leads. They aren’t constrained to follow any sort of story roadmap.
Plantsers Are a Mixed Breed
If you haven’t already guessed from the title of this section and the bizarre amalgamation of planners and pantsers, plantsers are a mix of the two types. It’s the gray area between the black and white of planner and pantsers.
These writers have mixed methods for writing their stories. They’ll have plans, but they don’t stick to them like glue. If their characters start to do something interesting, they will follow that thread and see what happens. These writers know where they are going, but aren’t exactly sure how they are going to get there.
Writers who fall into this category recognize the usefulness of having a plan and they recognize that sometimes you get a really good idea that you didn’t plan on if you give your characters room to breathe.
This is where I fall on the spectrum. I plan out some of my stuff, not in lots of details. I focus on the big picture items and let my characters lead me from one spot to the next. With writing my first novel, The Dead World, I only knew of four big events when I started and had a very loose idea of what the world of Tehrahey looked like. I had no idea how I’d get from one point to the next, but I knew I’d get there.
So Which Is Best?
Naturally, there is some debate as to which type of writer is better. Planners and pantsers both argue that their way is better. Pantsers accuse planners of spending more time on the outline than they do on the actual writing. Meanwhile, planners claim that pantsers waste time writing and staring at a blank screen because they don’t know what to do next or how to prepare for it. Then plantsers are just caught in the middle. Planners tell them they should prep more, pantsers tell them to just wing it.
However, I don’t think it really matters what type of writer you are. There is no right way to do what we love. It doesn’t matter if you are a planner, pantser, or plantser. As long as you sit down and write, what does it matter how you got to where you are? As long as you had fun writing and you created something that you are happy with, it shouldn’t matter what path you took.
If you have a certain method that works for you when writing, that’s great, but don’t be afraid to give the other end of the spectrum a try. You never know, you might find that some aspects of it help you write better. Then again, maybe they won’t, but you never know until you try.
For me, learning about the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet was a struggle. I didn’t want to learn a formula. I was completely against the idea, but once I learned it, there several spots in projects that had been giving me trouble and I suddenly understood why. Learning to be a little more of a Planner really helped my Pantsers tendencies. I’m still more Pantser than Planner, but that’s just how I work.
Which term best defines your writing style? Are you a planner or a pantser or are you like me and fall somewhere in between?