October 3, 2018

Pantser or Plotter?

The topic is an evergreen among writers, especially of fiction:

  • do we more or less construct our entire story up front, before beginning composition, including characters, backstory, plot arc, etc. Or perhaps
  • at least an outline of the main features of the plot and main characters, or
  • have a vague idea of who and what it’s about and sort of wander into it and see where it goes, or
  • name the protagonist and let him or her take it from there?

(This post is an invitation to contribute and build a thread).

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. My biggest issue with “pantsing” is that I’ve never created a truly stunning “twist ending” unless I came up with it from the get-go. I love surprise endings, à la Rod Serling or Chuck Palahniuk, but if I start a story randomly those endings become much harder to pull off. Most of my best twists are actually the inspiration I’ve had for the story in the first place — a thought occurs to me in a “aha” moment, and it’s an original idea I haven’t seen before, and I decide to write about it — but that means coming up with the twist first, not starting something I have no idea how to finish. Other authors probably fare better. But in my case, thinking up those Twilight Zone-esque is hard, and probably cannot be forced. They just sort of have to come to you, and you have to be patient. Once the muse sends me the insight, I can plan a loose outline and improvise the details, but the structure has to be there first.


  2. Everyone has a slightly different process, but I think the majority of writers will do some sort of planning. Something to consider is when that planning gets done. I have a story for which I wrote a beginning and an end without much planning. All I knew is that the character starts at A and gets to B. Now as I work out the middle I’ve started creating outlines and notes as I figure out what needs to happen for the character to make that journey.


  3. I don’t really write longer-length fiction (yet), but in my non-fiction endeavors I outline everything. Helps me stay focused, and know what nail heads I need to hit at every juncture.


    • I enjoyed writing research papers because of the planning. There is something very satisfying about organizing the information in a bulleted outline that breaks down each paragraph, topic sentence, fact and idea. Fiction is another matter entirely. My fiction outlines are a bunch of sentence fragments meant to be an order of events.

      Liked by 1 person


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About Dean Quarrell

Mr. Quarrell was born in 1946, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He has so far survived various public schools, community college, university (his baccalaureate degree is in English but written in Latin), the US Air Force, and various employment, including 30 years in the software industry. He lives and writes in New Hampshire.


Writing, (noun & verb)