Plotter vs. Pantser: Confessions of Two Novelists

Probably all writers have heard the terms plotter and pantser. But who are these people, really? 😉 And what is the real difference between them? You’ll find out as Rebecca Petruck and Kami Kinard explain their writing styles!

The Plotter: Rebecca Petruck

STNDespite the title, Steering Toward Normal was written with no direction. It started with two boys, sprawled into four boys and two girls, included the return of a long-absent mom, and stealing a pickup off a tow truck. I only found my way after eleven drafts and five on-and-off years. The novel I wrote while STN was on sub had a map and was “done” in three drafts and six months. So I’m a big fan of “the plot” now. Planning a plot in advance doesn’t have to be constraining. Instead, think of it like a bouncy house—it’s because of the walls that you can go wild and jump around like crazy. For me, a loose framework of the big picture creates room for me to let loose and see how the characters will react and what decisions they’ll make next. Sometimes, my plot points shift as I get to know the characters better and learn they wouldn’t do the thing that leads to the other thing. The beauty of discovering that early is I can rethink my plot before I write all the way to the end. A plot chart is much faster to envision, especially with friends, and it hurts a lot less to turn a page and draw new squares than it does to move 70,000 words to the trash and go back to a blank screen. For me, plotting not only saves time, it keeps my heart healthy, too!

  The Pantser: Kami Kinard

boy projectI admit it, I’m a pantser. This means that I don’t plot out my novels before I start writing. At least I haven’t yet! But I do have a general, meandering idea about where I want them to go. My novels always start with character, and I let that character lead me down the path into her story. You might say we take the novel journey hand in hand. Each novel starts with me at the keyboard typing fast and furiously as I get into my character’s voice. I think voice is the one of the most crucial aspects of writing to master, and I know that the voice of Kara McAllister, the main character in The Boy Project, contributed hugely to the sale of that first novel! When I’m typing, I find it important to try to think like my character would think and express myself the way my character would, always asking, “What else can happen?” This is how my words grow into novels. At some point, I stop to rest. I look back over my shoulder to see where I’ve been. I look ahead to see where the path might lead me. And if I think I need a map, I tip my hat to plotting by jotting down a few ideas of places I should visit before the journey’s end. Is plot important? Absolutely! But manipulating the plot, and getting it just the way I want it with enough conflict and character growth is part of the revision process for me.

Team Plotter or Team Pantser?

Decisions about whether to start with a plot, or develop character and voice first, are important parts of your novel journey! There is no “one way” to get it right. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you on Team Plotter, or Team Pantser?

23 comments on “Plotter vs. Pantser: Confessions of Two Novelists

  1. I have always been a pantser, but after
    I recently rewrote a picture book into a chapter book using the original pb manuscript as an outline, I will never go back to that method. For me, plotting is hard work, much harder than the writing or revising. I’m finding it is taking longer for my projects to get off the ground, but once that outline is in place, the writing is stronger, the creativity flows more freely. Thanks for your insights. And though I didn’t comment during summer school, I want to thank you for the transformative effects it has had on my characters.


    • kamikinard says:

      Thank you so much for your comment Joanne. We are glad Kidlit Summer School was useful to you!!! Someday I will try plotting…I can always fall back on my pants if it doesn’t work out!


  2. I’ve always been more of a pantser, but now I’m in the position Rebecca described of needing to do a complete rewrite because my plot just isn’t working. I started rewriting, but then I realized that I could wind up in the same position after the rewrite. So now I’m working on creating a solid outline before I go further on the rewrite, and I’m hoping this approach will save me some frustration down the road.


  3. Having written myself into corners on my first two middle grade manuscripts (one via pantser approach, the other a mix of pantser/plotter with a loose plot developed over several weeks), this time (book 3) I’m taking the plotter approach. I’ve found I’ve already hit many of the twists and turns that would have gotten me stuck and made me abandon (temporarily) the project before I found my way to the end — without writing a single “actual” word (I’m saving it for NaNoWriMo.) I know I can dump 50,000 words on the page in a month — did it in 6 days last year — so I’m hoping to stop the corner time by thoroughly plotting, developing a scenes list, and really getting inside my major characters’ heads well ahead of time. Jury is still out as to what works better (pantser seems to be faster, but yet those mss still languish incomplete past draft one), but all three approaches have been good teachers and interesting to try.


  4. kamikinard says:

    50,0000 words in six days Courtenay, all I can say is WOW! Sounds like you have a solid approach for NaNoWriMo this year. I am loving hearing about all of you guys trying different things. On Twitter I got the response, “depends on the project” pantser for some, plotter for some….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ssuehler says:

    I think I do a little of both, but it doesn’t seem to be working so well. You know the saying ‘Like a dog chasing her tail’? Well, that seems to be me. How do I make a plot chart? It sounds like a helpful tool. And thanks for the tips today! 😉


    • kamikinard says:

      Hi Sally, I know you signed up for the course already, so you have nothing to worry about. You will learn to make a plot chart in the class. Plot charts are Rebecca’s specialty and she is going to take us through the process!


  6. Pauline Tso says:

    I have been both – it does depend on the project. The shorter it is, like a picture book, the more likely I will be pants-ing. Longer like a screenplay, definitely a plotter. But when I’m writing the outline or treatment for the plot, I’m pants-ing that aspect of the plotting – does that make sense?


  7. kamikinard says:

    Hi Pauline, yes, it makes sense. I think no two writers go through exactly the same process. 🙂


  8. Kara Stewart says:

    It is so helpful to hear the detailed, differing approaches both of you take! It really helps to think about each method, the pros and cons, and possible times for uses.


  9. I’m a pantser who plots about how to become a plotter. But seriously, all my manuscripts have just panstered away. But I do have a structure in mind as I go panstering, so maybe that’s a pinch of plotting. Either way I’m having plenty of fun with all these “P” words as I post my ponderings about pantsering vs. plotting.


    • kamikinard says:

      Right there with you Pantser Penny. But I’m thinking I might try plotting after I get Rebecca’s tips. What if it saves me time? Hmmmmm. It’s good to know pantsing works for me regardless. Thanks for the P wordplay!


  10. I’m a committed plotter. After I have an outline I’m happy with, then I can go to work. As Rebecca knows, I’m a mess without a road map. PArticularly in a novel from 2 POV. Oey VEy!


  11. kamikinard says:

    Would love to see your Rebecca inspired plot outline sometime Carol. Any chance you’ll have it with you at SCBWI Carolinas this weekend?


  12. goaudreyrich says:

    Definitely team pantser as I let my characters take over and the story goes from my head to the pages of my screen. Although I think Rebecca is correct that it can take longer to edit/fix plot issues.


  13. kamikinard says:

    Me too, and sometime from my head into a notebook, depending on how I feel. I got lucky with The Boy Project and pantsing was very effective. But I have another novel that I just finished that took much longer to complete. Wondering if plotting techniques would have helped shorten that particular journey!


  14. Muck like you, Kami, I pantsed my way through my first (what I thought was) YA novel. And like YOU, Rebecca, I ended up completely rewriting those 50,000 words, more than once, mind you–and using a plot.

    Now I’m starting a new MG and did I learn my lesson? Pffft.

    (There’s just something freeing about pantsing, am I right? But at some point–BEFORE I get too far along–I’ll hash out that plot.)


  15. kamikinard says:

    Good for you Cathy, for embracing both plotting and pantsing! You’ll get it done!


  16. writersideup says:

    For my novel series (it’s been years waiting) I am a plotter. I don’t think you can write a series and not be, but once I’m ready to focus, I think I’ll start with the building and fleshing out of my characters. I do think I’ll stick with my plotting since the beginning and end can’t/won’t change. I’m more of a pantser with ideas that come from prompts or things that don’t have the themes my series will. Still haven’t written them so I can’t answer any of it with conviction.


  17. MercedesOrtiz says:

    I’m a bit of both, actually. Some bits and pieces of stories fall in my lap, and I try to write them down as fast as possible, to stop them from flying away. Then I ask my characters questions to get to know them better, and to understand their story on a deeper level. Once I have enough material, I sketch a plot, with the major moments and the twists, inciting incidents and all, based on the material I’ve collected. But when I start writing some things stay the same, others change, some new scenes spring, while others fade…
    By the way, your blog is wonderful! Thanks for sharing so many useful tips and wisdom!


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