Writing with a plan or flying by the seat of your pants. Plotters vs. Pansters by @MelissaSnark


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Plotters vs. Pansters
By Melissa Snark

Lately, I've seen a lot of two particular terms brandied about on various author and writing blogs. Plotters and Pansters. The debate rages across forums and conferences. It's an issue that transcends genre, common to all authors. What are they? Who are they? Why does it even matter?


Doesn't sound very romantic, does it? In fact, it brings to mind the image of an author kneeling in a patch of garden soil. Through tedious and attentive toil, the plotter carefully attends to their story seedlings, waiting for the moment when the plant blooms and produces full blown characters, chapters and complete story outlines. Plotters strive to have their story grow organically from their labor, minimizing wasted effort.

Plotters are writers who work within a structural framework. There are a number of tools employed to create the scaffolding that can include: outlines, charts, diagrams, index cards, and software programs such as Scrivener. A plotter often knows the beginning, middle and conclusion of the story before the writing process even begins and uncertainty imparts a sense of anxiety. Research is fundamental to a plotter's understanding of a topic before she feels comfortable writing about it.


This term, on the other hand, seems inherently romantic. Envision the enterprising author hopping into a bi-plane and literally "flying by the seat of her pants", defying the probability of crash and burn to soar amongst the clouds. The ride is exciting and the panster's enthusiasm carries the story forward. Unexpected plot twists and unplanned developments are common.

Pansters crave freedom and may dislike or actively shun the constraints imposed by structural framework. A single idea or character grabs the panster, sending her on a frenzied writing spree to get the words down onto paper. The author writes without any idea of what will happen or how the story ends. Taking the time to outline or create writing aids may dampen the panster's creativity and ability to finish the story.

Many new writers begin as pansters and gradually acquire the tools of world-building as their writing skills evolve. Other authors may over plan and actually need to acquire a degree of freedom in order to reach true creative productivity. It's been my experience that the plotter versus panster issue is not truly black and white. Rather, it is a matter of spectrum with different authors falling at different points along the continuum.

Personally, I began writing as a panster and gradually evolved into a plotter. In 2000, I made my first attempt at an original contemporary romance. The first incarnation of Learning to Fly (published by The Wild Rose Press in 2012) came into the world as a rollercoaster ride for both me and my heroine, Cassandra. From chapter to chapter, I had no idea what would happen next. It was mysterious and exciting but also frustrating. I got off onto wild tangents and eventually entire parts of the story were removed or rewritten. In contrast, when I started Hunger Moon, my paranormal novel, in 2009, I applied a far more structured process to the story creation. I employed outlines throughout and I wrote the last chapter long before I finished the novel.

I learned to write without ever having heard the terms "plotter" or "panster". To me, the important thing is to find where you are at on the spectrum and to honor that as part of your process. Good writers never reach the point where they say: "There's nothing else I can learn." Continue to acquire new knowledge and strive to better your skills as a storyteller. Remain true to yourself and truth will manifest within the pages of your story.

Meet Melissa Snark
A friend asked me once how I chose my pen name. I told her the following: "Melissa, because when people mix up my first name, it's the most common goof up. Snark, because it amuses me. A) I love the word 'snarky' and B) I love Lewis Carroll."

As an individual, I'm sarcastic, stubborn and blunt to a fault. I have a strange sense of humor and I like to laugh (usually at my husband or children), but also at myself. I'm not particularly extroverted, although I do enjoy time with my family and close friends a great deal.

At the moment, I'm a stay at home mom who writes in my spare time. I've got a B.S. from Arizona State University in Business, and I've worked a variety of different jobs, including as a medical device documentation specialist, a technical writer, and an auto liability adjuster.

I live in the San Francisco East Bay of Northern California with my husband, three kids, and three cats. My hobbies include roleplaying, cooking and reading.

I enjoy hearing from my readers, so please drop me a line at MelissaSnark (at) gmail (dot) com.

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