Oct 18, 2016

Pantsers turn into Plotters

It's October!

Which means NaNoWriMo is heavy in my mind. My region has done a couple prep workshops, but something that came up in discussions stayed with me - that pantsers eventually turn into plotters.

I found the concept strange.

One does not simply become a plotter

Personally, I've never used the term pantser to describe myself. I like "discovery writer". Often I do have a loose outline in my head, but it shifts and changes as I develop my worlds while writing. I'm not flying clueless, but I might have done all my training in a 4-person aircraft and have suddenly been placed in the cockpit of a 747. I do a lot of inference and rely on common sense/similar enough experiences. 

And then I realized that this year? I outlined my story. Three pages of my notebook are full of plotted out bullet points . Two pages are filled with history, world, and just-before-event  notes that influence the plot. My writing history tells me at least a third of my plot points will shift and my perchance to "discover" while writing means this story will be close to 50K instead of the 30K I want. It doesn't change things. Somehow, I turned into a plotter.

Strangely, I feel disappointed in myself. I liked saying I developed things as I went. I liked the thrill of discovery, of entering NaNo not knowing what the outcome would be. Of channeling characters to learn the ending at the same time they did.

woman writing in a notebook on the grass
But as my ML and our workshop leader expounded upon, this is natural. Moving from pantser to plotter happens to us all as we gain experience in plotting, character building, story structure, and all the mechanics of writing. Beethoven was said to be able to write a sympathy on on his deathbed, but that's because he had years of experience in creating them to build off of.

Writing is the same, my ML said. Plotters have simply internalized the process and know what do before pantsers. Pantsers, once they understand how to get a story out and the elements it might need, do all that work in their head before they start. They might not physically write an outline, but they have a plotter zone. Mentally, they are plotters.

As I mentioned before, my own style has shifted. My outlines have gone from "what if" mind bubbles to detailed play-by-plays (and in the case of one WIP, I had a story outline but got stuck on a chapter, so plotted that out. Chapter 7 has more bullet points than the first half of this novel. *rolls eyes*).

I want to know if other writers experienced the same. As the years went by, did you pantsers turn into plotters?


  1. I really SHOULD turn into a plotter. I have a novel that I've been rewriting every so often, that after a rejection I'm considering rewriting again. If I'd planned it, I wouldn't be wasting so much time. Although, I guess I could just say that the fully complete 57k novel is just the outline for the novel that will emerge from it? Or is that pushing the concept a little too far?

    1. You could argue that's a plot. *shrugs* Traditional pantsers have done no prep work, where are you have done a lot >.<

  2. 7 manuscripts later, and I'm still a pantser. I don't have more than the base (because it's a sequel) and a general direction for this year's Nano. I enjoy the discovery process too much to want to limit it. I'm that way with software development and game design too though. I have to get something on the screen or in front of me physically and play with it as soon as possible, and then I can make changes to refine it. I can't design the whole thing first and then make it all in one go. Make a little piece, get it working, play with it, make some changes or make the next chunk, etc, etc.