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There are two kinds of writers; there are pantsers, and there are planners.

And what, you will ask, are they?

Well, the answer is quite simple; a pantser is short for someone who write by the seat of their pants, while a planner is someone who plans and outlines a story ahead of time.

So which is the best method?

Well, though many say that as with most creative processes, there isn’t one, I do have a slightly different view of things. Yes, I know; writing is very personal, and what works like a charm for one person will be a nightmare for another. But if you’ll bear with me, you’ll see what I mean.

First, here’s a closer look at what exactly these types are:


As mentioned above, a pantser is someone who “writes by the seat of their pants”, meaning that they sit down and start writing, allowing the story to flow through them without knowing ahead of time where it is headed.

The advantage of this method is that no planning is required, and writers who find it a struggle with organizing might be more comfortable with this method.

Authors who are pantsers, such as Stephen King, are known to say that for them, planning would take away the freedom of following where the story leads because you’re resisting, trying to force it to fit in with the ending you planned out.

The problem that some can find though is that you can write yourself into a wall when you’ve got too vague of an idea of where you are going with things, especially for the more inexperienced authors. When you’ve written as many novels as Stephen King, then you know instinctively where you’re going, and what elements need to be placed where in the story so that it makes sense. For someone like me, just starting out, well… That probably wouldn’t work so well.



A planner is one who, as the name states, prefers to plan out the story before beginning to write. They create an outline, map out their story, world and characters, in a detailed manner or just as a vague idea.

It allows you to build your story in a logical and elegant that flows for the reader. You know the major events in your story, you know your characters and how they behave, you know your world and its history, and you know your ending.

Knowing all of this doesn’t only ensure that your story is coherent and has a nice flow, it also allows you to foreshadow events because you know what’s going to happen down the road, and why it matters. This gives another depth to your story.

Another advantage of this method according to those who prefer it is that it is very effective against writer’s block. Indeed, when you have your story outlined, you always know where you’re going and what to write next. No block!

A famous planner is J. K. Rowling; you can see an example of her outline for the book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix here.

Not just a matter of preference

As I said at the beginning of this post, I believe that there is more to this than just a matter of preference, and that there are other elements to take into account when writing.

An important one is what kind of story are you writing? How long is it? How many characters, secondary characters, subplots and arcs do you have going on at the same time? Is it a short story, with only a couple of characters? Or is it an epic, with it’s own detailed world and races and characters?

If you’re a pantser, you might be fine writing a short story, or even a full-length novel without too much planning, as long as you keep good track of what’s going on in your story.

If you’re writing a longer, more intricate story, you might want to consider mapping at least part of it out to know where you’re headed. Otherwise, chances are you’re going to forget sub-plots or characters, and end up with plot holes that your readers will not appreciate

And even with a shorter, less complex novel, you might get stuck. Being a pantser can work great for writing geniuses like King, but for authors starting out like you and me, we might need some structure.

Actually, scratch that. We definately need some structure.

I’m not saying you need a full-out complete outline of every single detail, but you need to have some general idea. If you like the idea of a pantser being able to go where the story takes them, that’s fine! Just leave enough room in the outline to do so. But I do think it’s important to have a basic outline.

Without it, chances are we’ll get lost in the middle of our book, forget where we wanted to go with it, and give up long before it’s as good as it could be. We wouldn’t be able to foreshadow events in a way that hooks readers and fleshes out our story.

Basic outline

Whether pantser of planner, chances are you should know at least these elements as you start to write in order to allow you to write full, believable and interesting stories:

  • Who your story is about: is there just one main character, or several? Who are they? Why is the story about them?
  • What are the major events: what are the characters going to have to deal with in the story? What events are significant enough that they will change your character(s)?
  • How do(es) the character(s) change: readers want characters to go through a change in the story; big or small, good or bad, but they need to change.
  • How it ends: yes; you should have at least some idea of how your story is going to end, even if it’s only knowing if it is good or bad.

Foreshadowing events properly in a story is, in my opinion, a huge part of what makes a story feel true and gives it depth. Planning is a major part of being able to foreshedow effectively.

Personally, I’m not the strongest planner. I usually outline my story, start writing, get frustrated, change my story, outline the new one, write some more, then change it drastically again.

But even though I’m not a very good outliner, I do think it helps me with the creative process. As I write fantasy, it helps me flesh out the world and its inhabitants because I brainstorm about what kind of creatures I want, how they will look etc before I start writing. (Read about how I create my races in a blog post here!)

This means that even though sometimes I have no idea which story I’m going to write, I know the world I’m going to write about, who lives there, its history, and many other details. The world is alive to me, and it is then just a matter of choosing which part of the story I want to tell.

What about you?

Are you a pantser, or a planner? I would love to hear how you write your stories, your process and what works and doesn’t work for you! Leave a comment and let me know 🙂

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