Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Plotters v. Pantsers

Once you know what structure is, how do you achieve it? To put it into writing slang, most authors are either plotters (creating structure in advance through outlines) or pantsers (developing the story “by the seat of their pants” as they write). This turns into an all-out war among authors who believe that his or her method is best.

Here are quotes from three successful plotters:

John Grisham: Outlines are crucial. . . . The outlining process is no fun, but it forces the writer to see the entire story.

Jon Franklin: In telling yourself you can’t outline, what you’re really saying is that you can’t think your story through, and if that’s actually the case—which I seriously doubt—then you’d better give up your writing ambitions before you become successful enough for people to discover that you don’t know what you are talking about.

J.K. Rowling: It took me a long, hard five years to complete The Philosopher’s Stone. The reason so much time slipped by was because, from that very first idea, I envisioned a series of seven books—each one charting a year of Harry’s life whilst he is a student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And I wanted to fully sketch the plots of all the stories and get the essential characteristics of my principal characters before I actually started writing the books in detail.

And here are quotes from three successful pantsers:

Stephen King: I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.

E.L. Doctorow: It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

Ernest Hemingway: (Responding to the question, “Do you know what is going to happen when you write a story?”) Almost never. I start to make it up and have happen what would have to happen as it goes along.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?


The John Grisham quote comes from a March 1, 2006 interview with Slushpile, which can be found at

The Jon Franklin quote comes from page 111 of his Writing for Story (Plume, 1994).

The J.K. Rowling quote can be found at, which lists the quote as coming from a November 3, 2001 interview with

The Stephen King quote comes from page 163 of his On Writing (Pocket Books, 2001).

The E.L. Doctorow quote can be found at and various other places on the Internet. Wikiquote attributes it to a 1988 interview with Writers at Work.

The Ernest Hemingway quote comes from page 41 of Ernest Hemingway on Writing, edited by Larry W. Phillips (Scribner, 2004).

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