The Plotters, the Pantsers, and the Plantsers

If you’re a writer, you most likely know what these terms refer to. If not, you might be staring at this title with a confused expression. Fear not, for I am here to explain everything bit by bit, even if you never intend to write in your free time (because it also applies to how you tackle your English assignments for school)!

Plotter: Someone who meticulously plans out every detail of their story/novel/essay. This is the type of person who simply cannot leave anything up to chance. Characters, themes, and plot arcs must all be known ahead of time, before beginning the project. It often involves hefty outlines in well worn notebooks, or pages and pages of notes on a laptop. However, plotters become a danger to themselves when they begin to do more outlining than writing; when they’ve got a whole journal about where they want the story to go and yet not a single word of the novel written. If this is something you’re having trouble with, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone a bit with this writing exercise:

WRITING CHALLENGE FOR PLOTTERS: Write the first scene of a new story idea (fiction, non fiction, novel, short story; just go for it) with this prompt starter, or another one of your choice: It was the darkest of autumn nights when a cool breeze swept through that small town and stole the inhabitants from their beds. Do minimal (or no) planning whatsoever. If you get stuck, play music that you believe fits the prompt the best, step away for five minutes, or choose another story starter. Remember, this challenge is meant to help you write the first thing that gets to your head! (Repeat this exercise if you want more practice with learning to manage more writing time).

Pantsers: As you can imagine, this category is the polar opposite of the plotter style. These kinds of writers either hate outlining with a passion, believe that they will become bored with the story idea if they plan too much, or simply don’t have the patience to sit with a plot for too long. I relate to all of this thinking, as I was once a pantser. I would sit down at my computer for National Novel Writing Month and crank out 50,000 words without having any sort of solid outline (I did, however, enjoy character sketches and diagrams). On the flip side, in my most recent work, I was forced to outline because I was creating the story for my graduation project, and I needed to show every step of the writing process. I ended up filling out two or three character and plot arc sheets and writing a summary for each chapter in my book. Here’s the most shocking part: when I got to writing the actual story, it was much easier than I anticipated, because I wasn’t constantly second guessing myself and pausing to contemplate about what came next in the plot and character development. I still love writing without an outline, but in longer pieces, I find it to be very beneficial.

WRITING CHALLENGE: Maybe being a pantser works best for you! Maybe you love the thrill of not knowing where you’re going. Today, though, I’m going to challenge you to try something different, because I never realized how much outlining helped until I tried it. Take the same prompt from the last section (It was the darkest of autumn nights when a cool breeze swept through that small town and stole the inhabitants from their beds) and decide if you want to create the beginning of a short story or novel. For short stories, write a summary for 3 different scenes that could be possible and let your summaries sit until the next day, when you come back and write them out. For novels (you can choose to plot your own novel in this challenge), summarize three different chapters and complete the same steps as above (allowing yourself time to think before jumping in and writing). Good luck!

Plantsers: This is currently where I am at right now. I don’t outline too much before I start because I want to keep my creativity flowing, and yet I need that structure to provide the easiest transition into writing. This is the essence of the plantser: a combination of plotter and pantser. In my opinion, this is the ideal option for writers, but we’re all so different and diverse that to be honest, the categories don’t matter as much as the writing that’s getting done. Plantsers should be careful of indecision, though. Too much time when it comes to choosing a path to walk during the outlining process can be wasteful and unnecessary. In other words, you have to find what works for you. My chapter summaries might be too tedious for some people, but then again, you can dictate how much detail you provide in those short paragraphs. Not planning at all might be too stressful for you, so you might want to decide to print out a few general plot sheets to get you started.

WRITING CHALLENGE: Pick one of the exercises above to complete or go to this site: ; there are GREAT outlining sheets on there that will have you writing in no time!

Check out these resources as well: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel (book), Murals (online sticky note site– I love it so much!), The Anatomy of a Story (book), and if you don’t know what kind of writer you are.

I hope that this article helped! Comment your suggestions for future blog posts down below; I would love to hear from you!

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on

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