Your Novel in 13 Weeks, Part 3: The Plot Wars

To Plot or Not To Plot

The closest you come to holy wars among writers is on the matter of plotting versus pantsing. Pantsing is a highly technical term, roughly translating as “flying by the seat of the pants.” Plotting in this case means working out the details of your story in advance.

Should someone ask you if you’re a plotter or a pantser, you might think it is just a matter of curiosity; but be careful how you answer.  Whatever your answer, there is an even chance that if your listener is a writer -- and even if he isn’t -- he’ll have strong opinions on how you’re doing it wrong.

The only people without strong opinions on this are people like me who started as strict plotters, became somewhat looser plotters, and now find themselves as pantsers.  It is not an unusual journey even if the opposite trajectory is almost unheard of .  I have the theory that plotters who become pantsers after a number of books have in fact internalized the structure of a novel so well that the subconscious is pulling its own weight.

Plotters defend their method of work as resulting in tighter, cleaner books, and pantsers defend theirs as letting unexpected genius shine through more often.  And yet, I know many plotters whose work has sudden, unexpected surprises, and many pantsers whose plots work as precisely as a Swiss watch.

So, instead of telling you the way you should work, I’m going to assume you’re an adult and know yourself best. Besides, if you start out one way and it doesn't work, you can always change.

What I’m going to tell you -- quickly -- is how some people write plot outlines, and then how other people write without mapping plots in advance.