Plotter? Make Sure You’re Wearing Pants

I am a plotter. Absolutely. I must plot stories before I write them or else they won’t get written. I need main characters, themes, a basic plotline, and a (probably terrible) ending before I can start the part of writing beginners think is the only Real Writing: words that might eventually appear in a novel.

But you’ll never catch me with my pants off. For the novella I’m finishing up (I have 8 of 10 chapters complete), my outline tells me that chapter 9 is about the MC making up with her BFF after they had a fight. The problem? The MC and her BFF ended up making up in chapter 7. And that was the only information I gave myself for this chapter.

Thankfully, it’s a romance, and so I know what the ending will be (happily ever after). And just as thankfully, I knew I was veering way off course a few chapters ago, and I planted new conflicts that needed resolved. So I’ll still get to the ending I want. And it’s way better than what I originally had planned.

The main difference between plotters and pantsers is how much work goes into the pantsing, and when. I could argue either way on who ends up doing the most work. When I pants new ideas into my notebooks, I scribble page after page about main characters, premise, themes, potential plot lines, world building, scene ideas… but I never try to make my scribbles dramatic. I don’t need them to work on their own.

This is all work I’ll finish before November 1st, when NaNo starts. Then, with my pants thoroughly on, I’ll be able to craft my writing. Not because I don’t pants, but because I already have.

And if experience means anything, I’ll get about 30,000 words in and realize I’ve already written everything I planned, even though I’m aiming for 60k with this book. Then I’ll have to sit down with my notebook and put my pants back on. I’ll need subplots and missing scenes. I’ll brainstorm my way through secondary characters for information I may have missed. I will write thousands of words that I never intend to see the light of day.

My understanding of Traditional Pantsers (oxymoron?) is that the entire first draft is this way: a meandering through an interesting story idea, finding out about the world and the characters, 50,000 words (if you win NaNo) of planning for what will be the first draft that actually makes sense.

I don’t think that outlining first is necessarily better. And I have a hard time considering what I do as outlining–it really is the writing frenzy pantsers wax eloquent on. When I begin an outline, I don’t know the ending. I write until I get there, but instead of entire scenes, I have “Jane finds out Mark’s secret and has to escape.” That leaves me a whole lot of room for pants-wearing while I’m “Really Writing.”

In fact, there’s so much room, I might just need some of these:

Hammer Pants

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Somewhere in between? How are you preparing for NaNo?


  1. I’m a pantser who’s forcing herself to plot this next one. I’m always left with such a disaster at the end of my first few drafts. I know there will always be a ton of work but I’m hoping an outline will help organize my brain a little, even if it’s a loose outline. I’m definitely writing my ending first with this one too!

    • Good luck! I think the plotting can be fun sometimes, or at least it condenses the not-fun part into a few paragraphs. There will definitely still be a ton of work, but I would almost guarantee it will be less work than starting from nothing.

      I hope that you have much more success with writing the ending first than I’ve had, too! Best of luck, Beth!

  2. Plotter here. I start my story board with index cards for the beats of three act structure. Then I make cards to get from beat to beat. Chapters are never planned. Then I write the story by the seat of my pants going from card to card.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *