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My Two Cents on Pantsers vs Plotters

Hey there my beauties! Happy Sunday, Happy Labor day weekend, and welcome to another surely crazy edition of My Two Cents! Today I'm giving you my two cents on Pantsers vs Plotters.

Ok, if you're a writer–which I'm assuming most of you are–these words aren't new, BUT for my 2.5, non-writer, family members who read my blog consistently, let's give some definitions.

Pantser: “A term most commonly applied to fiction writers, especially novelists, who write their stories "by the seat of their pants." (Writers Digest

Plotter: “Someone who meticulously plans and outlines their story before they begin writing.” (Master Class)

I think I've said it before, but in case not, I am the most prime example of a pantser. I, like my eventual readers, rarely know where my stories are going when they start, and the characters often take turns that surprise even me. Usually my stories start with a very rough concept of where they're headed (which I guess could technically be called a plan, but it's never outlined and rarely fully sussed out). They also sometimes start with a single sentence or stray thought. 

For example, my short story (recently published on Irish Whiskey started with the first line “Do you think it's possible…” I don't know why that thought entered my mind, and I had ABSOLUTELY no idea where the story was going (other than it had to be romance and have a “moral dilemma” as laid out by the competition I was writing it for). I also wrote an entire novel off first the sentence “I'm a chicken sexer!” No idea why I thought of that, but I did and the story just started writing itself from there.

So basically, I'm random AF and this often leads me on a weird journey. Sometimes it works, but if I'm honest, sometimes I wish I was more of a plotter.

Plotters plan out their stories, they have outlines, and often note cards that help them identify where weak parts lie and where more attention might be needed. They can usually tell when an idea comes too soon or too late and adjust before they even start writing. So when a rough draft is written, the story is inevitably more flushed out.

As a pantser, my first drafts are often just elaborate outlines. And I'm learning over time to treat them as such. So here is my first piece of advice to you pantsers out there: Don't trust a first draft! Don't put it out in the world, don't let anyone read it, because if you stick with the story, you'll realize one day that the first draft wasn't what you thought it was. It's not a novel, it's an outline. Treat it like that. You’ll only be disappointed by the feedback if you put it out too soon, so just don’t. Ok?

Here's another thing I think plotters do ‘better.’ (Better is probably the wrong word, but it does seem easier). They know where their story is heading, so they don’t have a ton of extra fluff when they’re done. I sometimes get on a tangent, and have been known to give WAY more detail than necessary (I know hard to believe right?) Anyway, I do it because I (the writer) need to understand why my character is doing something. But you (the reader) don’t necessarily need to know that Jenny had a best friend when she was five who said the line that Jenny just said, unless Jenny’s five-year-old BFF matters to the story. So in other words, I can’t always be trusted to judge what background is necessary, because to my pantser mind, it all is because that’s how I formed the character. So here’s my second piece of advice to pantsers: Don’t trust that everything you write should be in your final story. Sure that scene may be funny AF, and it could give a lot of detail about how the characters are formed, but if it doesn’t move the plot forward, it doesn’t belong there. Make sense? 

Moving on…

One of my fatal flaws as a writer is either underwriting or overwriting. So when I write my first draft, it’s short(ish). By (ish) I mean it usually falls into the industry standard for what romance books should fall into (50-90K words—which I have to say is wildly different everywhere you look, but I digress…) Anyway, that first draft contains almost no world building, no dialogue tags, and a lot of exposition (the background information on the characters and setting). While exposition is necessary, too much at once is really frowned upon and having no dialogue tags and nothing to ground the characters to their environment makes it hard for the reader to connect with the image the writer has in their head. 

Anyway, the point is, when I am trying to write all the ideas of the story down (without plotting) I can’t concentrate on those things. So what happens is, after I finish the first draft, I have to read through again and add them. I usually focus on action dialogue tags first. Replace some (but not all) the he said, she said, he asked, she asked, etc and change it to a verb. She walked, she gasped, she turned, etc. But there are only so many verbs and if you use them in every bit of dialogue that would get really repetitive. 

So… on my second read through, I focus on adding things that connect the characters to the environment “she sat down at the table, the wind blew his hair, she heard a siren, etc.” These are where the story starts to really flourish, and my little pantser brain can get carried away and think my story is 🔥🔥🔥

HOWEVER, here’s the kicker (and my next piece of advice): You can’t do all three. At least not all the time. For example, if I did all three it would read like “Jenny said, as she walked into the kitchen and heard the sink running.” That’s not necessarily bad, but if you did it on every bit of dialogue, you’d end up with a REALLY wordy manuscript (trust me, I know… I said this is my fatal flaw. I've done it, I’m still doing it and working it out). So that is where the really tough work comes in for me in my editing. It’s when knowing just one of those things is necessary vs all three. And that takes A LOT of metal energy and effort. So that is how being a pantser gets me stuck sometimes. 

While I understand that I may still struggle with this part of editing as a plotter, I do think one or two reads would be saved if I just plotted a little first. 

Also, when I’m trying to write a first draft I generally have a ton of exposition that needs to be weaved into the story better. So I have lots of long paragraphs (that are essentially what a plotter probably writes down) in the middle of my action that I need to incorporate in the action instead of writing them all together. This is probably the hardest thing for me to identify during editing. I usually know if the information is necessary, some exposition is necessary, but finding the balance is really hard for me. 

And all these things would be infinitely easier to spot if I wasn’t so close to the project. I can see it IMMEDIATELY in other people's work. I can read the first few pages of most books and tell you if they’ve been edited enough. But I’ve been known to send my work out to betas and later ask myself “how did they even make it through that?” I am pretty editing minded, meaning, when I read, I edit in my mind. That’s actually how I can tell if I really like a book. If I don’t have to edit it, I instantly love it at least 50% more. 

Anyway, the point is, if I wasn’t a pantser, I might not struggle as much with identifying my own weaknesses. I’m sure plotters have some of the same issues, but I can only really speak to what I know. If you’re a plotter, let me know, is it hard for you?

So that was a lot of reasons I wish I wasn’t a pantser, but here’s a couple of the main reasons I am. One, I’m not sure I even fully know how to plot, and it wouldn’t be fun for me. Since right now writing isn’t my living, I want to do it for the joy of the act. And it’s fun to me to write the story in the way I would read one. Also, I think the story comes out really authentic when it’s not over thought and over analyzed. Think about it, if a plot twist surprises the author, it will probably surprise the reader too, so one thing I usually don’t get accused of is my story being ‘boring.’ (Not that it never happens, just not usually). 

So here’s my last piece of advice dear pantsers (and plotters): Never ever stop editing. I think the four full manuscripts I’ve written have each been edited (in full) at least a dozen times. Some more, some less but on average I’ve read each of them at least a dozen times, and I still don’t think any of them are completely ready. I think they can always be improved and I’m always looking for insight on how. 

Listen, I probably know bupkis about most things, but here’s what I do know; no matter what kind of writer you are (plotter or pantser) it’s really f*ck!ng hard. The rollercoaster of emotions that accompany finishing, then editing, then letting other people read your work are never ending. And no matter what your process is, you’re going to doubt yourself. So take heart my lovelies, your work is important. If to nobody else but you. And rest assured where one person is, others will join. So if it’s important to you, your readers are out there.

So that’s it dear hearts, that’s my two cents on pantsers vs plotters. No matter which you are, you’ll get there just keep it up!

Thanks for reading and have a great week!


-Rose Rayne Rivers

Which one are you, pantser or plotter? Comment below and tell me. Also, let me know if you like that about you!

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