Pantsing Vs Plotting

If things on the website seem a little different lately, it’s because over here at Chez Wherever The Fuck I Live I’ve been throwing myself into a new book. I recently finished the first novel I’ve ever fully completed, ever, and while I have a little period of self-reflection, asshole-puckering anxiety about what happens next, and nightly cocktails before moving onto the next step (am I right that I now have to actually talk to people? That can’t be right. The whole reason I’m a writer is because I’m terrible at talking to people. This is a major flaw in the system and I demand to see a manager) I’m working on this second book. First, to distract myself. Second, as an experiment.

The first book I pantsed. This book I’m plotting. Which is better? Only time will tell!

Actually, I already know the answer to that, but let’s go over a few things.

What is This Word You Used? ‘Pantsed?’ You Mean to Tell Me You Pulled Your Book’s Pants Down In Public?

No, invisible person I have made up for this article. ‘Pantsed’ in this context is a writing term, short for ‘flying by the seat of your pants.’ Basically, you sit down and write the story as it comes to you, from beginning to end. Stephen King has famously said a lot about how the stories just come to him and he feels like he’s just the conduit through which the stories arrive or something, I can’t give you a direct quote because it’s late and I’m not looking it up but I’ve read a lot of King and I know I read that somewhere. So I’m guessing he doesn’t do a lot in terms of outlining.

Stephen King? The Guy With the Notoriously Bad Endings?

And great character development! And intricate plot lines! And whatever the Christ was happening in Needful Things!

And, yes, the notoriously bad endings. And I do believe these things are potentially related. But maybe not. Because pantsing a novel doesn’t mean you don’t edit. And, actually, side note…

Hey, you. Teenage writer. The one who thinks that editing is for everyone else and because you’re such a good and careful writer you can write your whole piece in one shot and never have to go back and edit anything.

You’re wrong. It’s okay, every writer has to go through this phase where they think they’re too good for editing, or that editing just ‘isn’t their style.’ But editing isn’t a style. It’s a vital part of writing. You’re basically saying, “If I just work slowly and carefully I can totally make this cake without putting it in the oven.” And you can’t. Unless it’s one of those cakes that set in the fridge, in which case replace oven with fridge. And don’t make those, they’re disgusting. What was I talking about?

Hmmm? Oh, I Stopped Listening Sometime Around Needful Things. Look at This Tweet From Tom Holland, He Spoiled-

I’ll kill you with my bare hands.

Jesus, Okay. Something About Pants

Oh, right. Pantsing. See, I pantsed my first novel. I sat down and I wrote two thousand words in a sitting, and then I came back on my next day off and did it again. I did it all in order, but some people will write the scenes as they come to them and string them all together. The point is that you’ve done little to no outlining prior to putting your ass in the seat and stringing the words together.

The biggest reason I liked pantsing was because I really felt connected with my characters and the world. While I had a general idea about where the story was heading, I was figuring out what was going to happen next mere seconds before they found out. This involves a lot of sitting and staring at a blinking cursor, never blinking slower, or faster, always going at the same speed. Maintaining a momentum you never had to start with. Mocking you. Tormenting you. Worming it’s way into your brain until the only thing you see at night when you close your eyes is a blank Word document and that half inch black line straight from hell.

And then you finally figure out what happens next and all of that goes away for roughly five to twenty minutes. While this is happening you’re really soaking in the scene. Making minor edits, adjusting the scenery or the blocking or dialogue as needed. Everything starts to feel a little more lived in, and personal.

When you finally finish the damn thing, though, you hit the editing part (put your fucking cake in the oven, teenagers) and then everything goes to shit again.

At least, it did the way I did it. No outlining, vague idea of what I wanted to happen, everything written in order, and (most importantly) any mistakes made put in a list to be dealt with editing. Which is where I hit my first snag: I had to do so many structural edits just to get the thing to make sense before I could get into the fun editing aka completely deleting a character because ultimately he wasn’t working and then changing the entire back third of the book because that wasn’t working. And not for some stupid reason like I had written a scene, decided it should happen later, and put the scene in again for my loser future self to sort out. No, for actual fun reasons, like correcting tone and theme progression and reader empathy for characters (see, hypothetical teenager, this is why you edit).

Wait, Are you Talking to A Completely Different Hypothetical Person?

…no.

I Don’t Believe You

You’re not real, so I don’t care?

Okay! Tell Me About Plotting!

Phew.

This book I’m working on now I decided to go with one of the many plotting techniques out there. I don’t know if it has a name, there’s lots of names for lots of things. Basically what I’m doing is almost the same as pantsing, except instead of writing scene after scene after scene, I’m describing scene after scene after scene in one or two sentences. This is immediately better, because when I hit a problem or a plot hole I can immediately fix it without flushing a couple thousand words down the drain.

I also feel like my scenes are a lot shorter, and a lot more focused. When you’re finding the plot as you go there’s a lot of rambling that you have to cut out, which is a totally valid way to do things but sometimes it can be hard to kill your darlings. After I’ve completed the scene outline for the entire book I put everything in order, and I start with scene one. I write down my characters, what they want from the scene, and the ultimate point of the scene. And then I start writing, and I have to tell you, I get something a lot sharper. I ended up adding a lot of scenes to my pantsed novel while I was fixing the damn thing and the difference between pantsed and plotted chapters was enough for my beta readers to notice.

So far, this book I’m working on does feel a lot more clinical than the last one. By that I mean I feel less like I’m relaying a fun adventure and more like I’m actually working on a book. It feels a little disconnected in the moment but I’m hoping when I get to the editing part I’ll start to really feel like I’m in the middle of the world.

Also, this plotting shit is making things go way, way faster. With pantsing I was struggling to get two thousand words out in the span of three to four hours, but with everything plotted out I’ve been consistently dumping three thousand first draft words onto the page in about as many hours.

Great Info, Entertaining and Satisfying. So, What Should I Do?

Oh, I have no idea.

What.

Yeah. Writing is both a personal and personalized journey and no one can tell you exactly how to write best. This is just a recap of me figuring out how I like to write. You have to sort through advice from as many different writers as possible and figure out what works for you.

So, I Had to Sit and Listen to You Talk About Yourself When I Could Have Been Watching Tom Holland Dance to Umbrella?

Nobody made you sit next to me.

…shit.


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