Planning or Pantsing?


Question: Do you prefer to meticulous plan your stories ahead of time, or do you just start writing and wait to see what happens?

Over the past year, I’ve become aware of the term ‘pantsing’ as a writing rather than a pranking term. Pantsing, as in flying by the seat of your pants. A lot of people seem to be very adamant pantsers, in that they don’t like to plan out their stories ahead of time and instead prefer to sit down and see what their creative brains puts down to paper. Other people are consummate planners and have every nuance of every scene mapped out before they start writing.

I like to live my life in moderation so as with most things, I’d say I’m a mix of both. For the main story I’m working on now, having a plan is critical. The characters’ lives loop in and out of each other, creating a somewhat complex timeline of events, so I need to know who knows what when, who is where when, etc. So in preparing to write, I made a long timeline that starts well before the story and ends well after the story, just so I can keep track of all the puzzle pieces. However, the planning for each day is very short. It basically consists of “Character X goes to see Character Y and they discuss Problem A.” Sometimes if I think of a brilliant piece of dialogue I’ll include that in that time point, but usually the timeline is fairly bare bones.

And then the magic begins. Once I sit down to actually write the story, I know the order of the events but I don’t necessarily know how they unfold. I often surprise my self with the conversations I come up with or the resolutions to problems that seemed impossible to solve when I was analytically outlining but were cleverly fixed in the creative moment. I guess in that sense, the planning and pantsing is a bit of a left brain, right brain dynamic, and there are benefits and disadvantages to both.

The biggest benefits of having a strictly structured but minimally detailed timeline is that insulates me from writers block. Let’s say the next event in my timeline is a fight between my two main characters, but the words of the fight are just not coming to me. I can look ahead to the future events I’ll need to write and see what strikes me. Maybe I’m really feeling that tragic death scene; I can skip to that and leave the fight to fill in later.

Anyone else have strong thoughts on planning or pantsing?

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2 thoughts on “Planning or Pantsing?

  1. I’m not a big planner. I usually know the bulk of the story before I sit down to write it, but I let my characters take the journey without a lot of forethought. I’ve been told this is the wrong way to go about it, but it works for me, most of the time.

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