Alexandra Needham raised a good point on her blog about the way NaNoWriMo novels are written. This got me to thinking. Mostly about my own failed efforts at NaNo (thanks for that Alexandra) but also about two main writers camps. The way that we tend to think of ourselves as either Outliners or Pantsers.
Over the course of our writing careers, each and every one of us will belong to one camp or the other, often without realising. For those who are new to all this, or think I just enjoy making up stupid words (which I do), I’ll explain the difference.
These are the types of writers who lock themselves away for weeks, even months, at a time, plotting every scene. They know almost every path of every character that will appear in their books before they begin to write the first paragraph. In short, they work from outlines.
These writers have a story idea and they have some characters and that’s usually all they need, so they sit down and just write. They have no clear plan as to where they will go. Instead, the characters and situations they encounter are allowed to dictate the course of the narrative. They write by the ‘seat of their pants’ – hence, pantsers.
I have belonged to both of these camps over the years. When I first started, I was definitely a pantser. I thought that outlines added nothing and stifled my creativity. Even now most of my short stories, especially my flash fiction, are still written when I’m in pantser mode because this is when I feel I’m at my most creative.
For longer projects (e.g. novels, novellas), I can become easily distracted without an outline and wander off at a tangent that is more detriment than discovery. I never start a long project until I know where it will end. I don’t always know HOW it will end or which route it will take to get there, but I do need to know how far to shoot and an outline helps to keep me focus.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not strictly an outliner or a pantser but combine the two in a way that works for me. I use my outline as a rough road map showing me where to start, to end, and the odd detour to take along the way. The actual meat of the story is all discovered through pantsing.
With the title of this post hinting at a grudge match, I suppose I should include a few pros and cons of each method:
- A solid outline will keep your project on the desired path
- Outlines give you a skeleton on which you can hang the meat of your story
- Allows you to plot out the most intricate twists and turns of a story prior to drafting
- Allows easier management of multiple plot lines
- Some find it too rigid and stifling of their creativity
- A lot of up-front work is needed before you can start drafting
- You already know how your story will end
- Needs to be used correctly for it to be beneficial
- You can write with little preparation (besides research, fully realised characters etc…)
- It’s probably the most creative thing we can do as writers
- Allows you to discover the plot at the same time as your characters
- Readily adaptable – scenes can be changed instantly if you don’t like where they’re going
- Some writers find it difficult to leap into the void without, at least, some form of a safety net
- It’s difficult to manage plot twists and multiple plot lines
- It’s easy to write yourself into a corner or go off track
- Mistakes can’t always be easily rectified with extensive editing
So over to you, are you an outliner or a “pantser”? Let me know in the comments below
Coming soon: Outlining for beginners.