A Guide to Being a Pantser Vs a Planner

Hey Writer Friends! I’m sure you’ve heard or seen the terms “Pantser” and “Planner” around the writing community. I wanted to share with you my experience being both and then how I figured out what kind of writer I actually am!


Let’s start with what being a Pantser is!

Think of this one as someone who writes by the seat of their pants! Doesn’t really work as good as flies but you get the point. Pansters are a little looser when it comes to the formulation of their story.

Sit down at the computer and just see what comes out? Yup.

The character that I wanted to be a boy, just seems to fit better as a girl? Cool!

I used to identify as a Pantser - 100 percent. I wrote my novel, THIS DEAD WORLD, this way. I would sit down at my laptop each day, remind myself of what I’d written the day before and just write what I thought should come next, or where my characters wanted to go. Little thought was given to story or character arcs. Plot holes were ignored. Backstories were messy.

But it was the most freeing writing experience. There were no rules, no mold I was trying to put my story into. I was just writing what felt good and what I was inspired to.

Now, be prepared for a lot of revision work as a pantser. All of those things that Planner’s accounted for in their prep process get to be addressed after the writing is all done. It can lead to more edits and more scrapped pages than you thought possible but it kept me from pulling my hair out after my characters set my outline on fire.

Planner: This one is pretty much what you’d think. It’s a writer who outlines, formulates mythology, lots of world building - all before they usually start writing. I think like everything else in writing, it is done at different levels. I was a Planner once! Before I wrote the first book that I finished, I outlined the heck out of it. I thought of all of these great scenes and went through my character’s backgrounds and go to know them really well.

And then - they messed up my story!

Some of you might be asking, “Wait, what? Your characters messed up your story? How is that possible?” But other writers out there know what I’m talking about. It’s that moment when you’re working from your outline so you know the next scene and then BAM, your character does something off script. They go a completely different way and it turns your outline upside down. Yes, I know for those of your screaming at your screens in confusion. That might seem weird but the characters that I write and that other writers put to paper, are calling the shots.

I like to think that I’m in control of the story and that I’m going to steer my story one way, down this beautiful sunny path that I’ve put together and then my characters jump off the side and down into a muddy creek.

Now, for you planner’s out there who can spend all that time and when this happens - you go with it! I applaud you. You are wonderful and I adore you. But I am not you.

What if you’re not quite sure that you’re one or the other? WELL, I would say that I’m with you. I went from being a full-on Planner to being a Pantser and now, where do I stand? I am right in the middle - a plantser.

What does that mean, Rose?

Let me lay it out for you.

Background info is key

I create backgrounds for my characters and for the world that I’m creating. That hasn’t changed. I think this is very important for every writer to do. You want to get to know your characters and understand who they are and why they are doing the things they are.

But as a planner and a pantser, I’m a little more flexible on this. I don’t force my characters into a box. If halfway through drafting, a character suddenly has a new trait that I didn’t think they would have - I go with it. Writing is all about learning what works best and what doesn’t.

Go with General ideas

What about my outline? Where are my pages and pages of detailed notes? I hate to break your heart, but they don’t exist. I keep it very simple when outlining and use the SRAR method. Set up - Response - Attack and Resolution. It’s a very general outline and easily adjustable when my characters decide to be independent of me.

Be flexible

Flexibility is key. Your novel is going to evolve throughout the drafting and revision process. It’s okay to delete a character or a scene that you love if it isn’t doing anything for your plot. Writing is about trial and error. Putting things together that you hope works but sometimes it doesn’t.

Prepare yourself for revisions

Have you ever heard the saying, “Your first draft is the worst your book will ever be”, or, “The first draft is just for you”? There is truth to these sayings. All you need to do is finish that first draft. Then you have the bones, the structure of the story that you can then pull and twist until it fits together just write. My point is, keep writing! Don’t let your frustration with a changing story let you stop.

Keep writing!

Tell me friends - what are you? Planner? Panster? Somewhere in between?