Plotting vs. Pantsing vs. Plantsing

plotting vs. pantsing

There are three kinds of people in the writing world: The plotters, the pantsers, and the ones who are a little bit of both, the plantsers. Where you fall and how you write is up to you. There is no right or wrong way, although some ways might prevent heartache down the line. When it comes to plotting vs. pantsing vs. plantsing, I, personally, fall squarely in the plantser category.

I used to be a straight pantser. I would sit down at my computer and type whatever came to mind, and I can’t quite put into words how satisfying it was. Unfortunately for me and my pantsing creations, I didn’t know enough about the romance arc to make it work. Maybe one day I’ll have the arc ingrained in my brain enough to be a successful pantser, but until then, give me my beat sheet and let me live.

Plotting vs. Pantsing vs. Plantsing—Break it Down

If you’re just starting out and these terms mystify you, not to worry. Let’s take a closer look at plotting vs. pantsing vs. plantsing—we’ll even touch on what fun fictional characters fall in line with each type of writer.


A plotter is one of those mystical unicorns I aspire to be. They are organized and have the details of their manuscript laid out before they put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

If you are a plotter, the first the first thing you will probably do after finding your story is create your outline.

The format I’ve seen most plotters take involves copious amounts of index cards. As a plotter, you will do a lot of work up front. Character development, chapter planning, the meet, the dark moment, all before you’ve written your first line. This is where I struggle: I want to just jump right in. However, when I’m panicking at the fifty-five percent mark that my entire story is trash, I’m sure you plotters are laughing at me while you glide on to the finish line.

You might be a plotter if …

  • You can’t conceive of a time when you sat down to write without a scene-by-scene breakdown.
  • The concept of “just diving in” leaves you colder than a hairless cat in wintertime.
  • Outlining is the first thing you think of doing when creating a new novel … or a new anything.
  • You love planning things, down to the smallest detail.
  • Before you start writing, you do the Meyers-Briggs test for all your characters.
  • You’re detail-oriented and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Famous Fictional Plotters:

  • Hermione Granger (Harry Potter)
  • Sophie Hatter (Howl’s Moving Castle)
  • Leslie Knope (Parks and Rec)
  • Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
  • Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights)
  • Boris and Natasha (Rocky the Flying Squirrel)

A pantser is a free spirit. A sit-at-the-computer-and-go-wherever-the-wind-takes-you kind of writer. There is beauty to be found here, but there is also danger. Sometimes, when you are just going with the flow, you forget about crucial elements of the story.

Pantsing can really affect the pacing of a story, and a slowed pace might cost you readers.

On the other hand, if it’s not your first go, if you are a romance master, you might have writing chops to hit it out of the park this way. And you, my friend, are what I call #Goals.

You might be a pantser if …

  • The concept of outlining makes you panic.
  • You prefer writing that matures organically.
  • Your characters lead the plot.
  • You’d rather scrub the toilet than write your scene maps.
  • Write the synopsis or query before the book is done? You’ve got to be kidding. You’re kidding, right?

Famous Fictional Pantsers:

  • Ron Weasley (Harry Potter)
  • Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With The Wind)
  • Ariel (The Little Mermaid)
  • Bart Simpson (The Simpsons)
  • Thor (The Avengers)
  • Jesse Pinkman (Breaking Bad)

From the writers I have come across, this seems to be the most common type of writer. We might not have every last detail planned, but we have a general idea of where we want to go.

A beat sheet is a plantser’s best friend.

As a plantser, you might have your opening scene, your inciting incident, and your midpoint planned out, but you just let the story in between those points flow from your fingertips. Using this method to the madness, your story arc is always in the forefront of your mind as you dance from one pinch point to another.

You might be a plantser if …

  • You go into a story with a vague outline—beginning and end, maybe a middle.
  • Although your characters might want to pull a fast one on you, you’re able to rein them back into behaving when they try to get out of hand.
  • You’re okay-ish if your plot takes a turn, because you know how to work that back into the greater story.
  • Beat sheets are your best friend OR you have an innate sense of pacing so you can hit the beats automatically.
  • You like doing a little bit of prep work. You have fun knowing your character backgrounds and have scene/setting visuals in your mind, but nowhere else when you start your novel.

Famous Fictional Plantsers:

  • Harry Potter (Harry Potter)
  • Mulan (Mulan)
  • Cinderella (Cinderella)
  • Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables)
  • Jon Snow (Game of Thrones)
  • Vincent Vega (Pulp Fiction)

Work Your Method

Whether you’re a pantser, a plotter, or a plantser—no matter your method—the finished product is always what’s most important. The way you get there is strictly up to you. And even though they’re nobody’s favorite, revisions are waiting just around the corner to help us all.

Disclaimer: We realize arguments can be made for and against any of these characters falling into a specific category. They’re intended as illustrations only; you might see any or all of these characters differently. Let us know in comments!

Feature image by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Alexa Martin
Alexa Martin is a writer and stay-at-home mom. She lives in Colorado with her husband, four children, and German shepherd. When she’s not telling her kids to put their shoes on (again), you can find her catching up with her latest book boyfriend or on Pinterest pinning meals she’ll probably never make. Her first book, INTERCEPTED, is out now with Berkley.
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