Plotting vs. Pantsing: Another Great Debate

I saw this picture on Facebook and I had to laugh, because it totally describes how I work.


When I first come up with a story idea, I often have only a very vague idea what’s about to happen. Sometimes as little as an opening scene that I think is cool.

One of my novels, one that is almost ready to be sent out into the world for scrutiny, came into being because I saw the opening scene. It was actually really frustrating, because I was right in the middle of writing something else, and this opening came to me, and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened, but I wouldn’t let myself start on it until I finished the one I was working on.

Here’s the scene:

The Eyes were back.

Watching. Mocking.

I thought I could escape the creatures, that here I’d be safe. Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. It was as if knowing I could sense their presence attracted them to me.

Another idea I came up with was inspired by reading someone else’s work. In the one I read, the main character was an immortal who’d been locked up in a supernatural prison for a couple hundred years, and then is released and sent on a mission. He watched some TV on a plane, and within like 24 hours knew enough about the culture to not be totally out of place, and he was using a cell phone and looking up information on the Internet. It just seemed so unrealistic to me.

I think the TV show Sleepy Hollow did a slightly better job of this, but even still, some stuff seems like it came way too easily. I mean, can you imagine what it would be like to wake up in a world where you didn’t recognize anything?

So I started to imagine what it would be like to wake up in a world where I didn’t recognize anything. If you’ve never heard the sound of a beep, how would you describe it? If you’ve never seen a building taller than a two-story cottage, what would that look like to you? If you’ve never fathomed the possibility of a TV and you happened to tune in to a soap opera, what thoughts would go through your head? If your only experience with light was either from the sun or a candle, how would you describe fluorescent lighting?

So I created an entire story based on that idea. Here’s part of the first chapter.

I was set on a soft cushion, softer than the straw mattress I slept on and without the prickles of the wool. I heard a rip of fabric and felt a chilled air brush across my chest. A wave of panic swept over me at the thought of being naked, but then a soft, cool cloth was draped over me.

Other sensations quickly diverted my attention.

Something cold was placed on my chest, beneath the linen that covered me, then was removed. Fingers probed my neck, my wrist, and then felt up and down my arms and legs.

Something was placed on the tip my finger.

A noise began over the din of shouts, like nothing I’d ever heard before. Like a bell, but high-pitched and without the ringing that accompanied the striking of metal, steadily pulsing, repeating the chime over and over in a never-ending rhythm.

All that to say, I have no idea where I’m going with a story when I first come up with it. It’s very rare that I know what’s going to happen. I’ve heard many benefits to plotting. I’ve heard it’s really helpful to have the points laid out ahead of time, so all you have to do is get to them when you’re writing, and I’ve heard that it’s really helpful for not creating plot holes to do it this way, but I can’t do it.

I’ve tried it. I’ve tried having even a rough outline, but it only works a little for me. I’ve felt like I’m wasting time writing down what’s going to happen instead of spending my time making it happen. And, most of the time, as I’m going along, something else happens that’s totally off-script, and I can’t do anything about it, and so my plotted outline is all messed up anyway, so I don’t really see the point.

And I think that’s okay. It speaks to my personality and writing style. There may be some huge benefits to plotting, and there may be some really good reasons to try it, but in the end, if it’s more frustrating than helpful, if it’s causing more stress than benefit, then what’s the point?

What about you? How do you write?


About Avily Jerome

Avily Jerome is a writer and the editor of Havok Magazine. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, both print and digital. She has judged several writing contests and is a writing conference teacher and presenter. She writes speculative fiction, her ideas ranging from almost-real-world action/adventures to epic fantasies to supernatural thrillers.

4 comments on “Plotting vs. Pantsing: Another Great Debate

  1. People are wired different ways, so everybody has to write the way their brain works.

    I used to pants everything, but that was because I could hold a whole story on my head. Now I have kids and my brain has less free memory, heh. So I’ve taught myself to outline. I outline loosely, and assure my brain that this is more like a guideline than actual rules. So if I deviate from the outline, I still have my basic road map from A to Z. And I detail my climax very carefully, referring to Jim Butcher’s climax beat sheet on his livejournal. I’ve never had a bad climax since I started using it.

  2. Those were fun examples! I’m a pantser too and don’t “get” how people can be so sure of the details ahead of time. Too confining for me! There’s sure to be a mutiny of characters, like you said!

    • Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed reading!
      Definitely mutiny. My main “bad guy” in my current novel was one of the good guys for a long time before she informed me she was evil. 🙂

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