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I asked my friends this question, they say being a plotter is better for a beginner, then once you get good you transition to pantser. I ask here because I hope to get advice from professional (or at least experienced) writers. I feel as though I lean more toward panster.

How do I find out which is better for me?

  • The answer to the question, as asked, would be opinion-based. If the question were posed as "how do I find if plotting or pantsing is better for me?", then it would 1. not need to be closed, and 2. generate answers of value to beginners. – Rrr Aug 25 at 17:47
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One doesn't "decide" to be a plotter or a discovery-writer ("pantser" is not considered a polite term in writing circles). One is one or the other, or somewhere on the scale between the two.

Some writers cannot write unless they've planned everything ahead and know where they're going. Some plan main events, others go so far as to plan the whole story scene by scene.
Other writers cannot plan at all: they let the story grow under their fingers, letting it take them wherever it would, finding out where it's going and what it all means. Trying to plan blocks and stifles them.

As a new writer, you will have to find out what works for you, how you write best, what's your way to create.

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    Someone should tell Sanderson to stop using the term Panter in his lectures. I think a lot of new writers are getting it from there. – Weckar E. Jul 24 at 12:51
  • I disagree. A new writer might take either approach. – Piomicron Aug 26 at 14:54
  • @WeckarE. Sanderson uses Discovery Writer and Outliner, I think? – Piomicron Aug 26 at 14:55
  • @Piomicron Depending on the lecture series, he looooves the word Pantser... I think mostly the more recent ones? – Weckar E. Aug 28 at 2:40
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I'm a discovery writer. I provide a lot of detail on beginning a story as a discovery writer, in this answer.

When I began I tried to be a plotter, but it didn't work; my creativity was used up in devising a plot, then it just felt like a job working through the outline; and on top of that, I didn't like my characters, it felt like they couldn't do and say what was 'natural' to them, and they felt like wood puppets. I'd lose interest, the story would stall, and I abandoned three decent story ideas that way.

Then I read Stephen King's "On Writing", and Stephen King is a discovery writer, with a similar problem.

Read my answer at the link above. For me the key is to start with a character, that has a problem. I don't plot out what happens and when, I think about my character for weeks before I start. I think about her problem. I think about her normal world, what she does every day and often how she got there. I don't write all this down anywhere; it is in my head.

Then I come up with a first scene I can use to introduce her, with some minor everyday kind of problem she has to deal with (not her big problem), and I start writing that scene, introducing her, the world, the setting, etc. The first hint of the major problem occurs about 10% to 15% of the way through the story.

I write in keeping with the Three Act Structure, but without plotting it all out: I just know, based on where I am in a story and how much I have written, what type of thing needs to be written next, and that is when I am going to invent that thing: In keeping with my story so far, and my characters so far, I'm not going to force them to act against their personality. The only "forcing" that happens is external events beyond their control; to which they are forced to react. e.g. they may get fired. Or perhaps are present during a bank robbery. Or perhaps her car won't start.

The biggest problem for Discovery writers is typically not the first Act or the Middle, it is bringing all the threads and character arcs to a simultaneous conclusion. So it is the Ending.

This is why you should write with some Ending in mind that will resolve everything; but it is okay to change the ending as long as it remains consistent with what you have written so far (or if it is easy enough to tweak previous scenes to make a better ending possible). Whenever you finish a scene, make sure your ending still fits, or come up with a better ending, or revise the scene you just wrote while it is fresh in your head. I usually change endings a few times in every story, learning about my characters as I go makes me think of more satisfying endings.

Positional awareness is also important; where you ARE in the story. Think of it as deciding to bicycle from Seattle to Miami; but without planning a route. All you have is your phone, and each day you plan a route for biking that brings you physically closer to Miami. You may find this brings you to a river you cannot cross, so you have to find a bridge and doing that may take you further away from Miami temporarily. But after crossing the bridge you can get back on track. Eventually and inevitably you will get to Miami, discovering your route along the way, solving problems along the way.

It is obviously not the most efficient route, but the most efficient route is seldom the most scenic route, or the most fun route. And in a redraft, you can cut superfluous elements that are not that entertaining, or rewrite things that no longer seem to fit the story and characters.

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Well honestly, it all depends on what it is you want. I tend to use both methods, (Plotting half) outlining the most important events that move the story forward and the ending. (Pantsing half) Once thats done I fill in all the little gaps as I go. You could do this since you are just beginning, I do understand your friends advice. But in the end, you do what works best for you. Neither is the wrong way to go. Edit: Sory! Big, Big, BIG, mistake! Boyfriend answer my question using my account on accident.

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As a beginner you should start with something short. Only a few characters, and one self-contained conflict. The important thing is to complete the process.

A discovery writer generally re-writes the entire story, top to bottom, in a second (and possibly third) draft, or from Amadeus's comment: "edit the entire story for multiple drafts". The main thing is to have the writing "flow".

Plotters use some kind of outline/system that gets filled-in, typically out-of-order in short bursts of creativity and editing. The workflow is more stop-start as inspiration strikes randomly. They need good organizations skills, and probably software like Scrivener that's designed to scale from outline to print-ready.

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    I am a discovery writer, I don't generally rewrite the entire story at all. Neither does Stephen King. Like most writers I will go through and edit the entire story for multiple drafts, adding things I tend to forget and deleting unnecessary stuff or condensing or improving description or dialogue. But I seldom rewrite from scratch, not the book and not even a scene (though I have deleted whole scenes and repaired the seams). – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jul 24 at 12:12
  • @Amadeus, It seems like maybe a semantic difference "rewrite the entire story in a second draft" vs "edit the entire story for multiple drafts", but I have added your words to the answer. – wetcircuit Jul 24 at 12:24
  • I'm not a fan of Stephen King. I find him rambling (my issue with most "discovery" stories that aren't well-plotted), and he relies on the same conflict over and over: people are trapped in a place while a monster is outside the door, which is never resolved or explained just characters argue, some people die, and then they eventually leave. – wetcircuit Jul 24 at 12:37
  • If that's the story he wants to tell, that's the story he wants to tell. (Sidenote: I way way prefer Wikidpad over scrivener) – Weckar E. Jul 24 at 12:53
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    @WeckarE. thanks for Wikidpad suggestion, I didn't know of it… I had resistance adjusting to Scrivener's "utilitarian" interface (my opinion)… I'm not sure I could go all the way with Wikidpad... – wetcircuit Jul 24 at 17:21

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