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Which are you: Plotter or Pantser?

Advice Blog 1 Feb 22 by Lorenzo Samuel, author of speculative fiction writings. In the 1 Jan 22 issue Advice Blog, I discussed other ways to inform a plot, specifically red herrings. In this issue of our advice blog, we’ll take up outlining and revising your story in preparation for using a checklist of to-do actions.

Let’s get started with the definition of outlining. My Websters defines outlining as “making a summary of a subject consisting of its most important points.” An outline of some sort is used by every serious writer. A pantser uses a simple written or mental outline. A plotter uses a written outline to plot out their writing pieces.

A pantser writes supposedly without an outline, creating important points as she or he goes along, whereas what actually occurs is that these points reside in the pantser’s mind and are pulled out ‒ so to speak ‒ when needed. Note that there are degrees to this matter, and that writers vary from pure pantsers (no formal outline) to pure plotters (full formal outline). Most writers fall on a line between these two extremes.

A 100% plotter would spend a great amount of time outlining all the important points in her or his story. This writer would end up with a piece that would look just short of a first draft. If you were to read this outline, you would get a sense of the entire story, and you might even be satisfied and enjoy it because it was so complete in its coverage.

In practice, after completing his or her outline, the plotter would proceed to his first draft, which would be quite close to the story submitted for publication. The percent of time spent on the outline could approach 50% or more of the entire writing process.

On the other hand, a pure pantser would dispense with the complete story outline and stab at a first draft. He or she would pull the important points of the story from his mind as the story came to life. Both the plotter and the pantser have an outline in mind. The difference between the two is whether or not a written outline results.

How about the in-between writer, the part pantser- part plotter- author? This soul follows her or his muse, does what feels most comfortable. Perhaps the writer jots some notes down about the next important point he or she wants to explore in the story. Or maybe the plotter finds that he or she should head in a different direction than what the carefully constructed outline indicates. This author may get so excited that she or he blasts ahead without the outline! Often the pantser surprises himself with what ends up on the draft; these surprises may even be the reason he or she writes, i.e., discovery what the story’s characters are going to do.

Enough on the pantser and the plotter and how each approaches an outline. Now let’s consider revision. Again, to Webster: revise means “to read over carefully and correct, improve or update where necessary.” The pantser may have more revising to do than the plotter. So be it ‒ each type of writer must revise, at least in part, in order improve his or her output.

What is the purpose of this extra work? It is to improve the reading experience of the writer’s readers. Thus, typos, errors, spelling, grammar, importance all must be improved to enhance the reading experience, and what is most important, to get one’s story through agents and editors so the story can fall into the hands of eventual readers, hopefully, so it becomes popular.

In the next issue of our Advice Blog, we’ll take up the use of a to-do list in outlining and revision.

Note: The book of short speculative fiction "Eve of Valor: 25 Tales" is available on Amazon. Click here.

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