WRITERS WORKSHOP: Pantsing/Plotting

Outline for the writers workshop on Pantsing/Plotting. Words in bold were written on the whiteboard.

Pantsing Vs. Plotting: The Great Debate

Intro (Same intro we use for every workshop!): Who we are, why we’re doing this:

    1. Black Hats Writers Group
    2. Some of our highly-rated stories are in anthologies, available on Amazon.
    3. I (Joan) am the editor for several highly-successful independently-published authors, academic writers, and a traditionally-published author.
    4. For ourselves, every workshop reinforces or challenges what we know about writing. Having to explain ideas helps us clarify our own thoughts and techniques.
    5. For the public, we enjoy sharing what we know in order to help our writing community and the community in general.
    6. These workshops provide face-to-face interactions and helps “writing” be less isolated. (If you met someone at the workshop and you’re interested in collaborating with them, leave a comment for them at the end of this post!)

What is Nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month (in November)

  1. in 1 month, you write 50k words.
  2. A good way to join a collective writing effort, but can also be a terrible time if you don’t like pressure or deadlines

Pantsing Vs. Plotting:


  1. Pantsing means “to write by the seat of your pants” (write without a plan). Plotting means to plan the plot or course of the story before writing it, to use an outline.
  2. It’s a topic that writing blogs LOVE to resurrect because it has never had a satisfying conclusion:
    1. The Usual Opinion: You must be one or the other, no overlap.
    2. Another Common Opinion: One is BETTER than the other
    3. The Safe and Caring but not-quite-helpful “There’s no wrong or right way” to do it.

Common Misconceptions about Pantsing:

  1. The story will feel FRESHER:
    1. Yes, it might, but relying on pure inspiration leaves the door wide open for writers block.
    2. You might end up with several false starts and going down several dead ends.
      1. This leads to a lot of lost time
      2. Also leads to a lot of wasted word count that your story would be better without.
  2. You have a lot more freedom to do what you want with your story.
    1. Yes. You do. But that could lead to a “story” with no plot arc or character development. A “moment” or a “Character study” rather than a story.
    2. Plot holes. Inspiration doesn’t always account for going back and making sure that Deus Ex Machina gun was somewhere accessible. Things make more sense in your head than they do in writing.
  3. Bonus misconception: Pantsers are Rebellious and the Bad Boys or Bad Girls of writers.
  1. Pantsing Advantages:
    1. You are more likely to pursue thoughts that might lead to breakthroughs.
    2. The story is more open to tangents that could either lead to unique new twists (or lead you to a cliche plot device! Watch out!)

Plotting Misconceptions:

  1. Knowing the ending will make everything seem canned (stale)
    1. Actually, knowing the ending helps you decide what is important to the story, versus what is important to *you*. You think it might be cool to world-build for 5k words but it’s actually slowing the pace, eating up word real estate.
    2. And actually, knowing the ending helps you free your mind to think of Red Herrings, False leads, open more situations to *guided* reader interpretation, thus keeping the reader invested in working out the solution but at the same time, making sure they get close to the real solution.
  2. There is no room for inspiration. Actually, you can make room for inspiration. The Outline is not carved in stone.

Plotting Advantages: 

  1. Having an outline can stave off writer’s block by:
    1. Giving you the prompt to the next scene or chapter.
    2. If you feel “blocked”, The Outline can show you the last major decision/character choice/ significant moment you can go back to and alter, sending your character on a new path.
  2. You can allocate word count better.
    1. Plotting is like part of prepping for a marathon. If you scope out the route, you’ll know where the hills are, where the port-a-potties, refreshment stands, and best spots for an instagram photo are. – You can plan where to devote more words, less words, to manipulate the pacing of your book. (more words = usually slower pace. Less words = usually faster pace and more tension.)
    2. The Outline can help you remember where to plant key symbols to reinforce themes and tone in your story.

  1. We need to stop using those labels:

    1. It sets up an unnecessary dichotomy that reinforces rather than celebrates differences among writers.
    2. Arguing between BETTER methods implies there are worse methods.
    3. Deciding which one you are wastes a lot of time and can block your process from alternative methods that might work better for a particular story
  2. Instead, call the whole thing your PROCESS.
    1. Think of it more as a tool or set of tools rather than a CATEGORY of writer TYPE.
    2. Take possession, or OWN the idea that you are in control of your PROCESS. Don’t let a Category take control of You.
    3. The Outline is a tool you use for your craft, which is more healthy and beneficial than pigeonholing yourself into an an identity as a Pantser or a Plotter.


***Different types of outlines:***

Formal Outline (Good for detail-lovers)
 photo Example of Complex Outline_zpszinsde68.jpg

Timelines (better for thrillers with ticking-time-bomb climaxes, and epics)
 photo Example of Timeline Outline_zpsrww8n6na.jpg

Query-Start method: (write the query first) Makes you identify Main Character, Antagonist, Goal, what’s stopping the MC.

-modular (different scenes first, then worked into storyline)

Mindmaps (More free-flowy, and good for Literary. If you prefer pen and paper over technology, try my favorite erasable pens!)
 photo Mind Map Soda Flies_zpsptjwcty5.jpg

  1. The Process (basic for any story): Use aspects from several types and methods of outlining to fit *your* style, personality, or specific story.
    1. Jot down the main character.
    2. Jot down the inciting incident (moment when life will never be the same).
    3. Jot down what MC tries to do to fix/exacerbate new Life Condition.
    4. Jot down thing/person standing in his way.
    5. Jot down the first possible resolution that pops in your head.
    6. Make these notes as basic or detailed as you want, for the particular story you’re telling.
      1. A short story might need no more than a few sentences.
      2. A 7-story saga might need 100 pages of notes.
  2. Next: Fill in the blanks.
    1. DAYDREAM, think, talk it out with yourself or with friends.
    2. Research. – All world building needs a kernel of something relatable ie, magic systems should have an infallible logic, historical drama should have true details.
  3. Expand or contract your notes until you feel ready for the story.

An overview/review of apps that could help with outlining/planning/plotting:

  1. Mind Maps.
  2. Scrivener. (Richard + Ernest) (Joan, speak on experience editing Scrivener-derived pieces)
  3. Evernote (Good for keeping different story notes in different notebooks)

If you prefer to outline the old-fashioned way, here are my favorite writing tools and papers:

Incredibly erasable pens. Not like the “erasable pens” of yore, with the gritty gray “erasers” that rubbed off the first layer of paper cells along with the ink.

And this awesome extra-large graphing paper:

Check out the other outlines from past Writers Workshops!

Dialogue. Basic to Advanced Techniques.

How to find the right Writers Group for you.

Writers Block and Writing Anxiety.

And here are some other writing topics I’ve covered:

Using the right Details.

How Filtering is ruining your story.

Writing better Female Characters.

Sharing is caring! I’d be grateful if you shared this page!

Connect with me by leaving a comment below, on Twitter (@JoanWIP), or Facebook.

Hang out in my mental playground! For cheaper than a venti latte, my highly-rated short stories are available on Amazon, Fresh Cuts: Breaking Volume and Fresh Cuts 2: Skinning Volume. #Fantasy #SciFi #Horror #Fables #Fairytales #SelfRescuingHeroines #DiverseBooks.

 Fresh Cuts 2: Skinning has been reviewed as “Smart” “Fresh” “Disturbing” and “the part of Wonderland people don’t talk about”!

 Fresh Cuts: Breaking has been reviewed as “Twisted” “Hilarious” and a “Delightfully perverse collection”!


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