Most writers fall into one to three categories when it comes to their method of writing and novel planning. There are pantsers, plotters, and those who are a mixture of both (like me). When starting a writing project, it’s important to look ahead so you don’t wind up writing yourself off of a cliff or into a dead end. So what’s the difference?
Not Much (If Any) Planning: Pantsers
A pantser is someone who sits down with little to absolutely no idea what their story is about. They are not sure who a majority of their characters are, if they know any at all. Some say that this is the essence of creativity. Pantsers make everything up as they go and usually abhor the idea of an outline. I find that this is usually because they hear or see the word ‘outline’ and think of those horrid things we had to write in grade school. In fact, outlining a novel is a much different process.
Plotters are your outliners. They decide ahead of time where their story takes place, who the main players are and ultimately what their story is about. I used to consider myself a plotter and if you get really technical about it, I am but being a plotter doesn’t mean that you know every single detail in advance. This is usually where people get confused or overwhelmed when they hear the word ‘plotter’ or ‘outline.’
I once had a classmate tell me, “Oh no! You should NEVER outline. It ruins the creative process.” This particular classmate was often rather bossy and enjoyed telling others what they should do and how they should do it. In my opinion, whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, it doesn’t matter. You do what works best for you! Everyone is different.
A Mixture of Both?
I consider myself a mixture of both a pantser and a plotter because while I do have a plan when I sit down to write, not everything is planned or set in stone. I’m flexible. I allow my stories and characters to change and evolve. After all, some of my best ideas come while in the moment of writing but pantsing leaves me with no goal or sense of direction. I also find that I’m far more productive when I have a plan. When I know what is supposed to happen in a scene, it’s easier to get the words on paper.
My main problem- I didn’t like the format of my outlines. While I kept the door open for other things to happen, I wasn’t happy with this format. I researched ‘planning a novel‘ and stumbled upon what is known as ‘The Snowflake Method.’
What is the Snowflake Method?
A software architect named Randy Ingermanson designed The Snowflake Method. Stressing the importance of design, he combines physics and fractals with creative thinking. I made that sound more complicated than it is, but he does a better job of explaining it at his website, found here.
This method is fantastic for me. You take a simple idea and expand upon it in steps until you have a full story and a hefty outline. This is the point where you start to realize that pantsing and plotting go hand in hand. After all, there isn’t an outline for the outline. Meaning, plotters don’t plot before they plot, they have to dream up the outline too. So there is still a creative process happening. Overall, I find that this structure makes the writing process more pleasurable and the editing process less painstaking.
In the end, it’s your writing and your decision on how you want to go about it. There is nothing wrong with listening to someone else’s suggestions but you don’t have to take their advice (especially when you didn’t ask for it in the first place). What works for them may not work for you. The last person I suggested The Snowflake Method to freaked out and was convinced that I was asking them to draw a snowflake…no comment.
Regina Bethory is a fiction author. She graduated from Christopher Newport University with a Bachelor’s in Directing and Play Writing and from Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School as a Test Electrician. She also has a degree in Funeral Services. As an avid minimalist and traveler, she enjoys spending her time learning new things, seeking new experiences and de-cluttering. When she is not writing, she can often be found in comic book stores and early morning matinees.