Plotting vs. Pantsing (Writing Community Lingo)

Diane Callahan
14 min readJul 26, 2021

An eternal debate in the writing community involves whether plotting or pantsing is the better approach.

Plotters develop outlines, summaries, and/or detailed notes before writing. They usually know the main story beats and have planned out the character arcs and world in advance.

Pantsers write by the seat of their pants, letting the characters and story reveal themselves as they go. They could have an idea for the ending they’re working toward, but it’s liable to change; they might have a structure in their head, even if they don’t write it down.

When I’m writing, I plot some stories and pants others; my approach varies from project to project.

Architects and Gardeners

In a 2011 interview, George R.R. Martin refers to plotters and pantsers as architects and gardeners, and he himself leans toward being a gardener/pantser:

“The architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail, they design the entire house, where the pipes are running, and how many rooms there are going to be, how high the roof will be. But the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up. I think all writers are partly architects and partly gardeners, but they tend to one side or another, and I am definitely more of a gardener . . .

That being said, I do know where I’m going. I do have the broad outlines of the story worked out in my head, but that’s not to say I know all the small details and every twist and turn in the road that will get me there.”

No matter which way you lean, think of plotting and pantsing as tools at your disposal rather than inherent traits or writing styles. The most successful narratives combine elements of form and structure with unbridled creativity and exploration.

Plotting: Pros and Cons

Plotters don’t have to worry as much about whether the story will feel cohesive because they already know that the pieces will fit together. In the outlining stage, they can correct plot holes, add in…

Diane Callahan

Fiction writer and editor, a.k.a. YouTuber Quotidian Writer.