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?