Most of us in the reading and writing community know the terms plotters, writers who plot everything out in detail before they begin writing; and pantsers, writers who begin and usually finish a draft without any outline at all. They “fly by the seat of their pants.” To understand the difference, think of someone planning a car trip between Boston and San Diego. The total driving time at average speeds is just over 44 hours or six days.
A TRUE PLOTTER
A true plotter would plan out every day’s route in detail, booking hotel rooms for every night in advance. They might even locate gas stations and restaurants along the way. All this would be programmed into their GPS, of course, for mile-by-mile guidance, complete with speed traps and traffic congestion.
A TRUE PANTSER
A true pantser would just get in the car and head west. The trip might take a few days longer. Some roads might turn out to be dead-ends, and there would probably be quite a few necessary course corrections. But think of the surprising adventures the pantser might have along the way.
IS THERE A MIDDLE GROUND?
I’ve always considered these two methods of writing to be more of a spectrum than two distinct camps. Even the most meticulous plotter will encounter detours and roadblocks. Plot points that looked good on paper will fall flat. Brilliant ideas will come in the middle of the night. And even pantser purists have to do a little planning in advance, even if it’s simply deciding on the setting, time of year, and main characters. Page One: your main character walks out of her apartment…no, her small house, in…wait, where are we? Does she put on a down jacket because it’s January in Minneapolis, or does she grab her sunscreen because it’s July in Key West?
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN A PLANTSER
Plantsers fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. In the cross-country-car-trip analogy, I would consult a map and decide to stop for the night at, say, Rochester, NY; Detroit, MI; Des Moines, IA; Greeley, CO; Cedar City, UT; and Las Vegas, NV. But how will I get from Boston to Rochester or Des Moines to Greeley? I have no idea. That’s where the pantsing comes in.
HERE’S MY PROBLEM
I’m currently finishing up A Collection of Lies, Book 5 in the Kate Hamilton Mysteries, and for the first time in my writing career, I don’t know who committed the crimes. Yikes! It could be any one of five possible suspects, all of whom had motive and opportunity. This isn’t like me. Am I becoming a pantser? Since the manuscript is due to my editor on August 1, my job now is to decide on my final stop before San Diego.