The diatribe between plotters and pantsers is probably as old as the hills. However, to be honest, there are just as many reasons to choose plotting as there are for pantsing.
Besides, it’s important to understand that these approaches are on a continuum and are not as mutually exclusive as they might appear at first blush. In fact, writers can, and usually do, use a mix of both. In addition, they can also choose their approach on a novel-by-novel basis, depending on things like the complexity of the story, for example.
In fact, while it isn’t so difficult to write a first person point of view short novel where there are only a couple of characters and the story line is as straightforward as an arrow, more complex novels with many characters and jumps in time and space could greatly benefit from at least a small amount of plotting.
If you’d like to know more about these two different approaches you can have a look at:
- Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing, by Libbie Hawker
- Writing into the Dark: How to Write a Novel without an Outline, by Dean Wesley Smith
Both books are well written and go straight to the point and can help you form a better idea about what really means to be an outliner or a pantser. For sure, I read them both and I’m glad I did.
You can also have a look at some of my posts about plotting and pantsing:
- Why I’m a Pantser Who’s Turning into a Bit of a Plotter
- Writing Under Pressure — When Your Story Goes Awry
- Trail Running and Planning a Novel
- 3 Easy Tips to Write Cleaner First Drafts
A Word on Freshness
Did you ever read that quote by Robert Frost? The one saying, No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader?
As Dean Wesley Smith puts it in his Writing into the Dark the biggest problem about plotting is exactly that. That’s to say, that if the writer knows in advance how her book is going to end then she will pepper her prose with subconscious hinst exactly about that. Hints that her readers more or less unconsciously will pick up as well and that will give them the impression the book they’re reading is on rails, too predictable.
I tend to agree with this take on the matter. But it’s also true that also pantsters can incur in the same problem. In fact, even if pantsters don’t outline their novels from the start, they keep going back and forth while they’re writing their first draft. They may go back a chapter or two to add some details that, they have discovered, are necessary later on to prevent plot holes.
So doing, they risk peppering their writing with the same subliminal hints of the plotters. In fact while they add in some more lines to better describe a setting or a character, their lexicogrammatical choices could nonetheless be tainted by the knowledge of how the story will unfolds — at least up to a point.
As a reader I can say that on some occasions I have certainly stopped reading a book because it was too predictable. But I’ve done so with books written by plotters AND pansters alike. As a result I believe that, more than dogmatically championing one camp over the other, writers would be way better off paying extra attention to the way they inject foreshadowing into their stories.
In fact, too little of that can be as damaging as too much. In any case, given that each reader is different, writers should aim to strike the right balance of foreshadowing (and any other relevant trope) for their intended readership. And then stoically accept the fact there will always be someone lamenting too much or too little of this or that.
After all, given that you can’t please everybody, you may well start writing to please yourself.