Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Pantsters vs Plotters – What's the Difference in Writing?

by Sarah Sally Hamer @SarahSallyHamer

Which kind of writing are you? A pantster or a plotter? Why does it matter?

An explanation of the difference may help:
A full-blown plotter creates a plan of action before any writing takes place. Some are almost OCD about it, plotting out each scene in the story from beginning to end. This type of writer will know loads about a character (goals, motivations, conflicts, character arcs, traits, etc.) before the first sentence is written. Where plot points fall and discussions of the Three Act, Eight Scene structure consume these people. They know exactly where the story is going and have trouble deviating.

Pantsters, on the other hand, may have absolutely no idea what they're going to write when they sit down. They allow the story—and characters--to guide them and don't worry about a rabbit trail or two. Or three. Or even four. The story will tell itself. 

I'm describing the two extremes, of course, because most people fall in between them. But it's good to have an idea of the benefits of both aspects of that polarity.

Plotter benefits:
A good solid understanding of the story before it starts
Less time wandering around and chasing ideas
Can help when under contract, since many books are sold on synopses

Plotter disadvantages:
Once the story is "written", even in a short version, it can be boring to "write it again."
Harder to make a plot change as the story is written, since it's already plotted
Too much structure can stifle creativity

Pantster benefits:
What a great time to let my imagination fly!
Twists and turns and surprises are so much fun!
I can change the story at any time and make it so much better!

Pantster disadvantages:
Ooh! I like that new character better than the one I had before!
What do you mean I have a deadline? 
But I like that plot twist! Of course it fits!

(Can you believe how different my two "voices" are? I didn't do it on purpose – the pantster in me just took over!)

I am both a pantster AND a plotter, because both sides of the equation are equally important. They're like tools in a toolbox. When I need to hang a picture, a hammer works better to drive a nail in the wall. And, when I change out a light switch, a screwdriver is the correct tool, not a hammer. Same with how we put a story together. When I need to imagine a story, I often let my fingers dance on the keyboard until a character I can work with emerges. Sometimes, it takes a few pages, sometimes a few chapters, but eventually, the story is born and I have a good grasp of what I want to say.

The plotter steps in here, at least long enough to get everything in order. I'll work out some of the details: GMC, traits, arc, at least five plot points, and then let the pantster back in the room.

My pantster side loves to play with ideas and images and descriptions. I let that happen as I pour the colors of imagination onto the page. The swirls of emotion, the vortices of deep thought, the maelstroms of conflict, all begin to connect, and to attach to the structure my plotter has devised.

Eventually, it all comes together, using the advantages of both sides of the spectrum, and a story is created.

Bottom line: 
Don't let either style of writing control you. You, the writer, are in charge of how you write. Using your strengths can give you the best of both worlds.

Which do you consider your strength? Plotting or Pantstering?


Sarah (Sally) Hamer is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres - mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction – she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for almost twenty years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach at Touch Not the Cat Books, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors. 

You can find her at or

I wish to express gratitude to the giants whose shoulders I stand on and who taught me so much about the writing craft. I would list every one, if it were only possible.


  1. Rachel Hauck calls herself a Planster and that fits me exactly. I need a plan of where I'm going, but not a detailed outline. All I need is an idea of what will happen in a chapter, so I like to storyboard. Then the pantster can take over.

    1. Oh, I LOVE that! I'll have to add Planster to my list. I think that's what I am too.


  2. I'm very much a plotter. I have to know my end before I write my beginning. But that doesn't mean I can't take a different route to my end once I start writing. Some very interesting subplots pop up on my journey to the end.

    1. That's really one of the best things about a plotter, if one can allow themselves to take that different route. I know many plotters who refuse to change even one idea, once it's on their plan. I'd much rather have fun with it!

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. you nailed me -- confirmed plantster!

  4. I say I am a plotter. I love to outline things... but it seems with any new idea for a story, I just start in writing and am amazed at what develops. Sorry, also to say, both a well plotted novel, and a write as it comes middle grade mystery... have not been finished. What now?

  5. I'm sure I'm a pantster. I can't wait to see what my protagonist does next.