Planning or Pantsing…

It’s a popular subject for discussion in the writing world – are you a planner or a pantser? Do you plan your novel to the nth detail or write organically, flying by the seat of your pants so to speak?

I’ve done both. I began as a pantser – I’d have an idea and then go with it. I didn’t much care whether it was even in the same genre as anything I’d written before, at first. I wrote it from the heart. Over the years though, I’ve changed. It could be the passing of the years, a question of confidence, or increased wisdom (hah) but whatever it is, I’m now a planner – still writing from the heart and enjoying it too.

So in the spirit of ‘fors’ and ‘againsts’ – and who doesn’t like a list? – I thought I’d do one or four for writers on this subject.

Planning – ‘fors’

  • It can help with ‘block’ and fear of the blank page.
    It will give you – at the very least – a skeleton to work on.
  • You are less likely to get stuck at Chapter 5 and not know where to go next – just look at your plan and off you go.
  • You can check out whether your narrative story arc works in terms of structure and dramatic tension i.e. you can become more of a technician.
  • You will know whether you have enough material to craft into a novel or if you have to develop more.
  • You avoid going off at a tangent and waffling because you know what you’re trying to achieve at every point in the story.
  • You can work out the structure before you start including narrative voices.
  • You can research before you start.
  • You can develop all the characters before you start and get to know them.
  • You can still allow yourself to go ‘off piste’ from time to time – if it will fit in with your story as a whole.
  • It may be easier to re-focus on your novel after time away from it if there is also a detailed outline to refer to.
  • You shouldn’t have too many (nasty) surprises.
    There’s likely to be less re-writing – at least from a structural point of view.

Planning – ‘againsts’

  • You know already what is going to happen and some authors find it harder to write spontaneously when this is the case.
  • You won’t have so many (nice) surprises.
    Planning can be boring when you can’t wait to start writing.
  • It doesn’t feel so creative or spontaneous.
    You are not so open to new ideas.

Pantsing – ‘fors’

  • There is a sense of freedom – you can go anywhere you choose and you are not restricted.
  • You can develop your story as you go along – it will be organic and you feel open to new ideas.
  • Your story will not feel stale before you have even begun – you will be itching to write it.
  • You can start writing as soon as you want.
  • You feel creative and spontaneous and this is rewarding.
  • You are more in touch with your instincts and intuitions.
  • There might be some delicious surprises along the way – it is the not knowing that delights you.
  • You carry on writing because you want to know what’s going to happen…

Pantsing – ‘againsts’

You may get stuck down a dark dead-end (plot-wise).
This may put you off facing the blank page in the morning – it’s just too difficult to work out where you’re going and how to solve the problem.
You may have to do a lot of structural editing to make sure the narrative arc and tension works well.
You may get to the end and find that your novel is far too short or far too long.
You may be faced with some nasty surprises – something might not work and you may have to go right back to the beginning to sort it.
You may not know your characters well enough when you begin.

There are probably loads more ‘fors’ and ‘againsts’ that I haven’t thought of. Why not drop me a line and we can add them to the list?

Philip Larkin worked with a knowledge of ending but not plot detail. He called it `the beginning, the muddle and the end’.

Raymond Chandler said `When things get sticky I just have a guy with a gun come into the room’

Chandler in particular must have been a pantser then…

Perhaps in the end every writer should just do it the way it works for her or him. There’s no right or wrong. Just books crafted in many different ways.

© Rosanna Ley
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