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To Be or Not to Be a Pantser: Advantages and Disadvantages

Updated: Jan 9, 2022

by Gabrielle Lopez

Design by Gabrielle Lopez

Surprises. Instincts. Wandering. Discovering.

Getting lost in stories and finding out where they are truly headed en route.

These are what it is like to be a Pantser—a writer who tells stories in spontaneous caprice, figuring the tales out as they sit and scribe by the seats of their pants.

In a previous article, we talked about what it means to be either a Plotter or a Pantser. We learned the differences between these approaches to the art of writing: Plotters like to “paint by the numbers” through their series of outlines and drafts while Pantsers prefer to write “alla prima” or “at first try”, capturing stories as they come.

We also tried to find out which of the two types of writers we identify with, and we talked about advice for writing as a Plotter and as a Pantser. Now, we are going to explore the ups and downs of taking on storytelling as an unexpected adventure—the pros and cons of being a Pantser.

Design by Gabrielle Lopez

Looking on The Bright Side

In adventures, we experience the thrills of living unlike anywhere else. We seem to encounter the brightest side of the sun as we wander through unknown places and unearth priceless moments. The same goes for Pantser writers. The best thing about being a Pantser is the thrill of discovery, the bliss of experiencing our own stories just as we write them and feeling that somehow, everything fits right. These are the mysteries and marvels of being a Pantser.

Flying Freely

Writing Pantser-style means that our stories are unknown—but unhindered. We do not know exactly how our stories go. Rather, we just write and write and let the words and the characters unfold in the way that we deem perfect at the moment. Though there may be uncertainties, there are no limits to where we can take our stories. We have no plans to keep us grounded; we fly freely through freewriting.

By being a Pantser, we give ourselves the opportunity to be as creative as we want when it comes to our plots, characters, settings—basically, everything about our stories. This creative abandonment gives us surprises and allows us to make even the most surreal possible through our written tales.

Freewriting also allows us to focus more on what is happening in our stories, than what should be.

Moreover, the technicalities of writing are also forgotten for the meantime; grammatical errors, mistakes, inconsistencies, missing concepts are set aside for later. This then allows us to be more original and raw with our voices as writers; we can express our individuality more and let the story go the way it needs to at the same time.

The emotions, thoughts, and experiences in our stories are better felt because they are written in the moment.

Following a Bend in the Road

Unlike Plotters who have to stick to the plots and plans that they have outlined, Pantsers are more free to change the course of our stories, should we wish to. Pantsers do not have to worry about re-constructing the whole plot due to the unforeseen changes in one part because then again, Pantsers do not strictly outline stories.

We do not carry roadmaps for our writing adventures; we do not trace the specific paths that we will be taking every step of the way. Because of this, re-routes and sudden changes are not a problem.

More importantly, unexpected twists in the plot surprise and excite not only the author but also the readers.

Pantsers also have more incentive to keep writing to the end of their stories because we decide where they go as they go. If we suddenly doubt or get tired of a plotline that we have already constructed in our minds, or if we suddenly feel like what is happening in our story does not feel right anymore, we, Pantsers, can always easily shift our plot to what we believe is better, and this keeps our passion for our story alive.

Finding Someone Along the Way

As Pantsers, another thing that we do not plan is our characters. When we write, we start with even just the vaguest idea of what our story will be all about. Everything else just follows suit, and this includes our characters: who they are, what they do, where they come from, what they want, how they act, and why they are acting the way that they are.

It is undeniably challenging at first to establish a consistent, original, and vivid voice for individual characters, especially as we are just making things up as we go. But as we write and write, as crazy as it sounds, these characters eventually grow on their own and turn out to be exactly who they are meant to be.

This surprise in characters gives Pantsers an edge because by letting characters be and by writing them in the moment, we unknowingly create strong, lasting, and authentic voices with whom our readers can relate.

Even more so, character development becomes more accessible to the writer and more in-depth to the reader. This is because change is free with Pantsers—and when there is change, there is growth in our characters; when there is growth in the stories that we tell and the people that we portray, we connect better with our readers, and we tend to leave them with a long-standing impact.

Design by Gabrielle Lopez

Waiting to be Out of the Woods

As much as being a Pantser entails going on a literary adventure for our writer minds, it also means having to face the inevitable challenge of getting lost in our stories. And though getting lost is synonymous to creatively wandering about our writing, sometimes we just do not know which way to turn anymore, and we end up going in circles.

Just Around the Block

Writer’s Block. A common experience to us all, and yet no matter how many things we list as methods to avoid it, we still stumble onto it somehow—and apparently, Pantsers do so more than others.

Without a plan for a story, Pantsers are in trouble of having more frequent—and possibly, longer lasting—writer’s blocks. By not having an outline to guide us out of the tunnel, we make it harder for ourselves to make the next move especially when inspirations for our stories fade. And so, we may end up in the darkness of our minds for days.

Another disadvantage of a Pantser is that when we fly with our imaginations, we fly high and uninhibited—but when our creativity falls, we fall back down hard. This makes the challenges to our writing harder to get out of than usual, especially because we greatly rely on inspiration and spontaneity for writing.

And when the moments do not feel right for telling stories, we tend to leave them for a time—sometimes, even for good.

Potholes and Plot Holes

Yet another downside to not having plans for story writing is the unforeseen plot holes that creep up on us and hollow themselves out into our stories.

For Plotters, plot holes are something that they can already remedy in their pre-writing stage; with that, they have better control over mistakes and missed details. For Pantsers, on the other hand, plot holes are just another one of those surprises (albeit unfortunate this time) that we find along the way of our writing.

Because we write on a whim—and because we love to continue writing while we are in the zone of our imaginations and emotions, sooner rather than later—, we tend to miss out on the inconsistencies. Though, as said earlier, freewriting allows unbridled creativity, it sets aside the technicalities and shortcomings of writing in the meantime.

This makes it more difficult to address the problems with our stories because besides not noticing them immediately, there is also the challenge of having to fix a plot hole so that it fits into the mold of the story that we have so far shaped.

The Long Way Around

Revise. Review. Rewrite. Repeat.

This is the Pantsers’ mantra once we have finished our first drafts.

Because our stories are written at our first try without prior editing and embellishments to both the language and the plotlines, we have to edit more than others do. Even before finishing our drafts, we already have to take the time to pause and edit because otherwise, the plot holes in our stories will make the major revising process later much more inconvenient.

It is in the editing process where we finally get to see our stories for how they have turned out. It is also at this stage where we decide where else our stories can go and where they should have not. Because as Pantsers, we subscribe more to the freewriting process, in the editing stages, we may find that we have written more parts than what is necessary for our story. It is important then to identify which parts we can do without, which ones we believe deserve to be kept, and which ones are merely for rewriting.

Though our first draft may already be the Plotters’ third, it does not mean that the pieces of our stories will not fall into place. Eventually, they will. And though we may have to take the long way around, we Pantsers will always pave the paths for our voices and stories to come to life.

Design by Gabrielle Lopez

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

The Road Taken

Having taken into consideration all these factors, it is now in our hands whether or not we will pick up the pen and be Pantsers. Just remember to choose the method that you believe will not only give you a sense of enjoyment but will also make you grow as a writer. Be it the Plotter’s plans, the Pantser’s pants, or a mix of both—it is up to you. Whatever you choose, be prepared to overcome the drawbacks but take advantage as well of the benefits.

Either way, what is more important is that we choose to keep the art of writing alive by crafting our stories. What matters more is that for as long as we can and with as much heart as we have, we choose “the write things.”


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