pants on a washing line

Plot or Pants?

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Or do you utilise a bit of both? Ultimately we are all unique individuals and what works for one may not work for another. I’ve been thinking about the two methods and seeing which works best for me.

Pants for the characters

When I look back on the books I’ve read, especially those from over a decade, it’s the characters who I recall while the plot fades into a vague synopsis. I like to put a lot of effort into fleshing out my characters and this is where pantsing comes into its own.

The characters are key. If the plot was a car, the character is the driver. If there are bumps in the road, they’re the ones who have to navigate and keep the control of the vehicle so they don’t crash. Sticking to the car theme, my first drafts begin with a basic road map. I know the beginning and I have a good idea of the ending. I’ll also have a few key scenes which crop up along the route like waypoints. However, I leave it to the character to take me there. Pantsing gives the characters freedom to express themselves. Their personalities begin to shine through as the word count increases.

For me, creating a detailed plot and then shoehorning the characters into it is like trying to herd cats, it leads me into trouble in the shape of a huge rewrite. This is why I don’t plot. Let me rephrase that. This is why I pants first.

Plot for the er… plot

Right… I have an early draft in front of me. The characters are fleshed out to the point I worryingly know them better than my own family. Now I can really focus on the plot. Because I have a better grips on the characters through pantsing, I can get a feel for how they will react when I throw the plot their way. As I look through each scene I begin to question their reactions. For example, I planned to create a character who was pretty badass. As I fleshed her out in pantsing, I realised she abhors violence which didn’t sit right in a few scenes where she witnesses and, in some cases, instigates it. Therefore I had to edit the scenes to fit how she should react.


Knowing our characters allows us to work out how they will tackle the situation. Back to the car theme, we know what sort of driver they are. Having a driver who likes to speed suddenly start driving at 39mph on an empty straight road is against the grain of who they are. The reader will resurface from the story and frown, wondering why the sudden change. Writers need to be aware of what drives the character to successfully drive the plot.

So I’m a panster first and a plotter second. Or is that called a Planster? What are you? Which do you find most useful when you’re writing?

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