Friday, July 8, 2011

Plotter, Pantser, or Quilter?

If you're new to the lingo, no, I'm not making a reference to evil pranksters who dabble in arts and crafts. Today I'm talking about writing styles!

Why? Because understanding how you (and others) naturally operate can go a long way toward helping you improve on your writing methods.

Note: I'm not going to claim to be an expert on this, I'm just going to lay out some observations I've made of my writing peers along with my interpretation of the available definitions.


By all definitions I found, a Plotter can't stand not to create an outline for their book before they actually begin writing. They may even go so far as to outline their individual chapter scenes. They see the whole picture ahead of time, and may feel compelled to create goals and checklists to help them track and quantify their progress. As a result, they are more likely to write in chronological order, from start to finish. I tend to associate Plotters with the OCD inclined, although this isn't always the case. If you need to feel precise or 'in control' with your writing, then you may innately lean in the direction of Plotter.

Advantages: When it comes time for the dreaded synopsis to be written, they have a distinct head start in the form of an existing outline. Plotters also tend to catch logistical errors and lags in pacing early on, saving themselves a great deal of trouble later down the writing road.

Disadvantages: Plotters can sometimes plan their story to death. They may get so bogged down in the details, chronology, and backgrounds involved that they take forever to actually start writing the meat of the story. They may also be tempted to cling to a predictable, formulaic approach, which can handicap their creativity.


To the best of my understanding, Pantsers derive their name from the implied 'fly by the seat of their pants' tendencies. Born improvisers, they don't entirely know what's going to happen next in their story, and they like it that way. Some insist that it ruins it for them to know the ending to their own story ahead of time. They also tend to have a knack for downplaying the more tedious elements in story structure, which seems to maximize their enjoyment of simply writing for writing's sake. If you like surprises and don't like to feel constrained, you may be leaning in a Pantersly direction.

Advantages: The general assumption is, if the author doesn't know what's going to happen next, neither will the reader. Their more haphazard approach often grants them a freer flow of creativity, and most don't seem to agonize when it comes to corrections.

Disadvantages: Heavy revision load. Plot holes and character inconsistencies may go unnoticed until the novel is finished, and correcting that late in the process carries the potential of a domino effect on other logistical complications.


Quilters (I've also seen them called Plottsers?) are something of a hybrid between the first two styles--trying to strike some sort of balance between calculated organization and imaginative spontaneity. They usually begin with a solid idea of what they want to write and how it will end, but they remain flexible to a plotline or character developing in an unexpected direction as they go. While they look before they leap, that doesn't mean they've decided how they're going to land. They prefer to write scenes as the mood strikes them, but not in any particular order. For a Quilter, a novel ends up being much like stitching together a series of interconnected short stories. They don't mind throwing characters and situations together just to see what happens, but because of the scene-jumping, they also like to create orderly references to keep their train of thought from derailing.

Advantages: The best (and worst) traits of the two previously mentioned styles, depending on the person.

Disadvantages: They may lack a sense of accomplishment until they've been able to piece together significant sections of their story.

I've personally found myself to be a Quilter, though I'm certainly not advocating one style over another. (I'd like to thank the warring effects of OCD and ADD for nurturing my particular 'technique.' >.>) I'm convinced that one's writing style is whatever comes most naturally to you, and forms as a result of your personality and ingrained habits. So, go with what works! There are plenty of exercises out there that encourage you to stretch yourself and/or determine the approach that's most effective for you.

Pantsers, don't squelch your creativity just because those nifty craft books recommend strategic outlining and formulas. And Plotters, don't think you need to take a Xanex and throw your punctilious caution to the wind just to get your muse to return your calls.

So, tell me about YOUR style. :)