Writing Analysis: Planning VS Pantsing

Today, I’m gonna share a bit of writing advice with you guys. Not because I haven’t read a book in a month, what are you talking about?! I’m offended!

Writing is a much more difficult art than people give it credit for. Not only is it incredibly hard to craft a compelling story with good characters, but it’s also a craft that you can approach in a thousand different directions. It takes a lot of time and practice to really figure out what works for you. Even then, it takes longer to refine what works into something truly special.

There are a lot of questions you need to ask yourself when writing a story. What kind of story will it be? What kind of world will it be set in? What kind of characters should inhabit this world? The list goes on and on.

Everyone in this field has a different approach to answering these questions. But generally speaking (and I mean very generally speaking), they typically fall into two categories. A planner and a pantser.

A planner is a meticulous writer. They typically spend a lot of time in the preproduction phase. They’ll outline every detail of the world, characters, and every beat of the story before they sit down and actually write the thing. This way, they can properly pace the story, refine every character and their arc, so on and so forth.

A pantser, on the other hand, goes with the flow. They’ll typically start writing as soon as they get an idea in their head. All the details of the world and characters aren’t something to worry about. They’ll figure it all out as they go along. Hopefully, it’ll all tie together in the end!

These two approaches are the opposite ends of a spectrum. Not everyone is a complete planner or pantser; most times, writers are a bit of both. Figuring out where you are on the spectrum is an important step in your growth as a writer.

To figure that out, you need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each side. Neither one is infallible; they come with a distinct set of challenges the writer needs to overcome. It’s all about finding which one you’re more comfortable with and which ones issues you can more readily overcome.

For example, a planner’s outline, while it does make setting up for plot twists easier, could turn out to be too strict. It can give the story a feeling like reading off of a bullet-pointed list. If you plan out your story too much, the audience will be able to tell. By outlining the story, you effectively remove any chance of surprising yourself with a good idea. If that happens, surprising your audience could become much harder. Worse yet, it’s harder to tell whether or not something is surprising; it’s hard to be taken aback by a story you’re so intimately familiar with.

This is where pantsing has the upper hand. By writing the story without any restrictions, you can craft one that flows much more naturally. However, it’s much harder to implement proper foreshadowing for grand plot twists without doing some incredibly heavy editing. Worse yet, you can get caught in a writing loop. If you don’t have a clear end goal in mind, you could just end up writing and writing. Then you’ve got a whole new problem: your story is a confusing mess that’s lasted two hundred chapters too long and your audience abandoned ship ages ago.

Personally, I lean pretty heavily into the planner side of things. I like to outline the setting and craft all of the characters before I sit down and actually start writing. However, I’m closer to the middle of the spectrum than I am to that side. My outlines are always loose and open; that way, I can knock them out quickly, get to work faster, and have more creative freedom in writing the actual story. I know where the story is going to end and how the characters will get there; it’s all the little details that I figure out during the writing process itself.

What works for one person may not work for another. It’s all about finding that proper balance that works for you. You can’t just copy and paste someone else’s method and expect it to work. Everyone has a different approach; finding yours is part of the fun.

Even if it takes a long time. Just sit down and keep at it. You’ll figure it out eventually.


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